UK Rules on Junk Food Ads Coming Into Force, Industry Responds Positively


30 Jun 2017 --- A new set of rules banning the advertising of high fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) food or drink products in traditional and online children’s media and other sites is set to come into force in the UK tomorrow. The new Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) rules pertain to media channels where children make up over 25 percent of the audience. Representatives of the UK Food and Drink Federation and advocacy groups have responded positively to the changes.


In a statement, Ian Wright CBE, Director General, Food and Drink Federation (FDF) – the voice of UK manufacturers, states that FDF supports and welcomes “this landmark move in UK advertising which will end the advertising of foods and drinks high in fat, sugar or salt in media targeted at children, including online.”

“HFSS food and drink ads have long been banned on children's TV, with under-16s today seeing far fewer of these ads than in recent years. As young people move away from traditional media towards new and social media, we feel it's important that ad rules keep up with this change,” Wright says.

“UK food and drink companies have a high compliance rate with advertising rules. The FDF has been and will continue to work with the ASA, AA and other partners, to make sure advertisers understand how to meet these new requirements which represent a major shift in the UK advertising regime. Just last month we published a webinar with the ASA to help advertisers, as well as the public, understand the new regulations, which we see as a step in the right direction towards tackling the complex issue of obesity,” Wright explains.

Commenting ahead of the introduction of the new rules, Malcolm Clark, co-ordinator of lobby group Sustain’s Children’s Food Campaign, says: “After years of our campaigning on this issue we welcome these new rules, which should hopefully stop some of the more blatant forms of advertising junk food directly to children.”

Click to Enlarge“But we have concerns about exactly how the rules will work in practice, especially online. We are also disappointed that some criteria may still mean children remain exposed to a significant level of junk food marketing on websites and social media. In addition, packaging, in-store promotion and sponsorship deals remain outside of the rules,” Clark adds. “Past experience suggests that we will have a busy time ahead keeping a close eye on advertisers; submitting complaints, and challenging the Advertising Standards Authority to clarify the gray areas and close down the loopholes. We know sweet and confectionery brands are among those most needing to step up."

Tomorrow also marks the launch of Children’s Food Campaign’s Operation Eagle Eye which seeks to make sure that companies keep to these new standards.

Advertising targeted at children is a hot topic at the moment, with the use of cartoons in advertising and on product packaging to appeal to children recently called into question in both Europe and Australia.

European consumer organization BEUC recently called on European food companies and retailers to stop using cartoons when marketing nutrient-poor foods to young consumers. After surveying the presence of mascots on supermarket shelves and online adverts in 13 countries, BEUC found that cartoon mascots appear on foods that the WHO considers unfit for advertising to children, i.e. because they are loaded with sugar, salt or fat. Out of over 100 examples, BEUC members found only one child-friendly character being used to promote a fruit or vegetable. Research has shown that character-based marketing has an impact on children’s dietary behaviors.

In Australia, new research by the Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) found that more than half of supermarket products marketed at kids are unhealthy. The group surveyed 186 packaged foods with cartoons or character promotions designed to attract children and found that 52 percent were classified as unhealthy by the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criterion calculator, which looks at the amount of energy and certain nutrients (e.g. saturated fat, sugars, sodium) present in the food.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is “unequivocal evidence” that the marketing of foods high in fat, sugar and salt is strongly linked to childhood obesity. Cartoon characters are an especially powerful and persuasive marketing method to target children. Unfortunately, these characters are overwhelmingly used with unhealthy foods.

by Lucy Gunn


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