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Children seeing fewer 'high fat' food adverts, says UK watchdog

By Jane Byrne , 28-Jul-2010
Last updated on 28-Jul-2010 at 14:10 GMT

UK Media watchdog Ofcom has found that children are exposed to less high fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) products through TV advertising since 2005 and it sees no need to tighten the current regulations.

Publishing its final review this week into the effectiveness of the restrictions placed around high fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) products, which were introduced by the agency in collaboration with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in 2006, it said children were now exposed to less HFSS advertising, 37 per cent less overall, while young children was 52 per cent.

Ofcom also noted that between 2005 and 2009 children were exposed to significantly less HFSS advertising using techniques considered to be of particular appeal to children such as cartoon characters to promote brands, although it found that celebrity endorsements continued.

The watchdog had previously estimated that the advertising restrictions, once fully implemented, would reduce the exposure of 4 to 15 year olds to HFSS advertising by 41 per cent of the 2005 level and by 51 per cent for younger children - 4 to 9 year olds.

The Children’s Food Campaign holds that the final Ofcom review demonstrates that while the advertising restrictions are reducing the amount of junk food advertising children see, they have been "less effective than predicted."

The group said that the figures reveal that the reduction falls short of the hoped for 41 per cent, and for older children, the reduction is only 22 per cent, with much of the remaining junk food ads children see falling between 6 and 9pm.

The campaign coordinator, Christine Haigh, said the review also shows that the current regulations don’t go far enough.

"As we argued when the restrictions were introduced, we need a tougher approach to protecting children from junk food marketing if we are to address the record levels of childhood obesity in this country. The figures show that a 9pm watershed would be a more effective way of protecting children."

She maintains that food industry marketers are finding increasingly alternative ways to target children through media such as the internet. "If the Coalition Government is serious about protecting children from “excessive commercialisation”, then these loopholes need to be closed urgently," she added.

Separtely, the Children’s Food Campaign has received the support of broad coalition of organisations and charity groups as signatories to its letter to UK Health Secretary Andrew Lansley highlighting what it perceived to be threats to children’s health following his stated plans to hand the Change4Life anti-obesity campaign over to companies such as PepsiCo and Nestlé, in return for no regulation.

"If we are to tackle the record levels of childhood obesity in this country we need policies that support healthy choices, not a regulatory free-for-all," said the advocates.

Meanwhile, April of this year saw the European Snacks Association (ESA) announcing its decision to join an EU initiative, which began in 2007, designed to restrict advertising to children.

By signing up to the ‘EU Pledge’, it said that it will commit to promoting compliance among its membership with the undertaking, which means that the firms involved will not target children under age 12 in print, TV or internet adverts, except, said the ESA, for products for which there is scientific backing.

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