New food advertising rules are better but not perfect

Restrictions on junk food adverts have been extended to cover children’s non-broadcast media, including print, posters, cinema, online, advergames and social media. Restrictions were already in place for TV.

The new rules, which apply to media targeted at under-16s, reflect changing media habits amongst young people – children aged five to 15 spend 15 hours online each week. They are also in response to wider concerns in society about the public health challenges surrounding childhood obesity.

From 1st July:

  • ads that directly or indirectly promote an HFSS product (according to the Department of Health’s nutrient profile) cannot appear in children’s media
  • ads for HFSS products cannot appear in other media where children make up over 25% of the audience
  • if the content targets under-12s, ads for HFSS products will not be allowed to use promotions, licensed characters and celebrities popular with children; advertisers may now use those techniques to better promote healthier options.

The changes will result in a “major reduction” in the number of ads children see for products high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS), according to the Committee on Advertising Practice.

“The new rules will alter the nature and balance of food advertising seen by children and play a meaningful part in helping change their relationship with less healthy foods,” said CAP chair James Best.

Campaigners are not so sure. Malcolm Clark from the Children’s Food Trust welcomed the new rules, which will “hopefully stop some of the more blatant forms of advertising junk food directly to children”. However, he said concerns remain about exactly how the rules will work in practice, especially online.

Action on Sugar’s nutritionist Jenny Rosborough also said the rules needed to go further: “They don’t manage exposure to these adverts during popular family programmes such as the ‘X Factor’ or ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ and therefore should be extended to a 9pm watershed.”

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