Which? demands tougher action for TV junk food ads

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Children Advertising Nutrition

Bans on advertising HFSS foods (high in fat, sugar and salt) to children in the UK are not working, according to consumer watchdog Which?

Despite the introduction of rules in April 2007 to prohibit advertisements of HFSS foods in or around programmes made for to appealing to children, Which? claims that its recent survey showed that none the programmes with the five highest child audiences are covered by the restrictions under existing rules.

“The ad restrictions may look good on paper but the reality is that the programmes most popular with children are slipping through the net. If these rules are going to be effective, then they have to apply to the programmes that children watch in the greatest numbers,” ​said Clare Corbett, Which? food campaigner.

However, the Which? report has been dismissed by the Advertising Association, a confederation of 32 trade associations for industries involved in the UK advertising sector.

Baroness Peta Buscombe, the association’s chief executive called the report “sensationalist, unconstructive and missing the point”​.

The report includes programmes that were not aimed at children and some were screened after 10pm, added Baroness Buscombe.

“There clearly has to be an element of parental responsibility on which programmes they allow their children to view,”​ she said.

The consumer watchdog analysed TV viewing data for four British channels (ITV1, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky One) between 9 and 22 June 2008, and focused on programmes that had the highest number of viewers under the age of 16.

And this is where the current regulations fall down, says Which?: The rules are based on the proportion of the audience made up of under 16s, rather than the actual number of children watching.

Ofcom has been charged to review how the TV advertising restrictions are working by the UK government, with results expected in December.

“Once the Ofcom review is finished, the Government has a great opportunity to update the restrictions so they stop children from being exposed to ads for unhealthy foods,”​ said Corbett.

“We’re not anti-advertising, we’re just against the fact that most of the ads children see are for unhealthy products, rather than the healthier foods they should be eating more of,”​ she added.


Statistics appear to back up the current rules, however. According to an Ofcom report published last December, the advertising of unhealthy food and drink products fell 20 per cent between April 2005 and September 2007, driven by a 59 per cent decline during children's airtime.

The drop in impacts has been greater amongst children aged between four and nine.

The first phase of the restrictions, relating to advertising of HFSS foods around programmes aimed at the under-10s came into force last April. The second stage, prohibiting such advertisements in or around programmes made for children (including pre-school children), or in or around programmes that are likely to be of particular appeal to children aged four to 15, came into force on January 1.

Missing the point

Adding to her comment of the report “missing the point”​, the Advertising Association’s Baroness Buscombe said: “It is far more effective for government and industry to work together in partnership to improve the health of the nation by helping people to introduce changes in their lifestyles, rather than imposing bans and restrictions on them.

“That is why earlier this year the Advertising Association announced a £200million campaign involving Britain’s leading food and beverage, retail, media, advertising and healthcare companies, working in partnership with Government to tackle obesity.

“The advertising industry takes a very responsible approach to food advertising and is acutely aware of the importance of safe, responsible standards. There has been a real change in the nature and balance of food advertising to children in recent years and Ofcom, the independent regulator, has confirmed the positive work undertaken by industry,”​ said Baroness Buscombe.

According to the Department of Health, statistics from the 2005 Health Survey for England showed 18 per cent of children aged between two and five in England were classified obese in 2005 (body mass index over 30) - an increase from 11 per cent and 12 per cent for boys and girls respectively in 1995.

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