Ban on junk food TV adverts before 9pm to combat child obesity in UK

Ban on junk food TV adverts before 9pm to combat child obesity in UK
Courtesy: Jamie Grill via Getty Images

New restrictions to come in force from next year will mean children are less exposed to the temptation of unhealthy foods with a ban on junk food adverts until 9pm, the UK government announced this week.

Following a public consultation on the issue, regulations will come in at the end of 2022 introducing a “watershed” for advertisements of foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS), which will apply between 9pm and 5.30am during which time HFSS ads would be banned. The new rules apply to TV and UK on-demand programmes, as well as restrictions on paid-for advertising of HFSS foods online as part of a wider campaign to combat childhood obesity.

“We are committed to improving the health of our children and tackling obesity,” said UK Public Health Minister Jo Churchill.

“The content youngsters see can have an impact on the choices they make and habits they form. With children spending more time online it is vital we act to protect them from unhealthy advertising. These measures form another key part of our strategy to get the nation fitter and healthier by giving them the chance to make more informed decisions when it comes to food,” she said.

A total of 79 per cent of public consultation respondents supported a 9pm watershed on TV while 74 per cent agreed with the introduction of further HFSS advertising restrictions online.

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“We need to take urgent action to level up health inequalities. This action on advertising will help to wipe billions off the national calorie count and give our children a fair chance of a healthy lifestyle,” added Churchill.

In order to keep the restrictions proportional, the government’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the new regulations will apply to food and drink products of most concern to childhood obesity and will ensure the healthiest in each category will be able to continue to advertise. This approach means foods such as honey, olive oil, avocados and marmite are excluded from the restrictions.

The restrictions will apply to all businesses with 250 or more employees that make and/or sell HFSS products, meaning small and medium businesses will be able to continue advertising. DHSC said the move is in recognition of the fact that these companies may be some of the hardest hit by the pandemic and rely on online media as the sole way to communicate with their customers.

Online restrictions will be limited to paid-for advertising, ensuring brands can continue to advertise within “owned media” spaces online; such as a brand’s own blog, website, app or social media page.

DHSC says the TV and online restrictions could remove up to 7.2 billion calories from children’s diets per year in the UK which, over the coming years, could reduce the number of obese children by more than 20,000. It follows data showing that one in three children in the country leave primary school overweight or obese, with obesity-related illnesses costing the National Health Service (NHS) £6 billion a year.

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“Covid-19 has further highlighted how important it is to tackle obesity, with excess weight being a risk factor for more severe disease. Evidence shows exposure to HFSS advertising can affect when children eat and what they eat and, over time, excess calorie consumption can lead to children becoming overweight or obese,” DHSC said.

It added that the new Office for Health Promotion – launching fully later this year – will lead country-wide efforts to improve the health of the nation by continuing the fight against obesity, improving mental health and promoting physical activity.

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