Children less exposed to junk food advertising on TV, says DoH

By Gavin Kermack

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Cent Advertising Nutrition

The UK Department of Health (DoH) says that measures taken to combat the promotion of junk food to children seem to be taking effect – at least in terms of television advertising.

A new report, Changes in Food and Drink Advertising and Promotion to Children​, claims that television has seen a decrease of 46 per cent in the annual spend on food and drink advertising to children between 2003 and 2007, in spite of a 6 per cent (£34m) increase in spend on food and drink advertising to the general public.

Child-themed food and drink advertising spend across all media dropped from £103m in 2003 to £61m in 2007 – a fall of 41 per cent. Annual child-themed ad spend across all media has fallen every year since 2003, with the greatest drop – 19 per cent – occurring in 2007.

This is in spite of an increase of 19 per cent in annual spend for overall food and drink advertisements targeted at a general audience during the same period.

Julian Hunt, director of communications for the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), which represents the food and drink manufacturing industry in the UK, said: “This independent government report confirms what we have been saying for some time, namely that the UK marketing landscape has changed out of all recognition in recent years due to a combination of strict regulatory and voluntary measures.”


The advertising of HFSS foods (high in fat, sugar and salt) has become something of a battleground between the industry and health watchdogs, with the former claiming that efforts are being made to comply with new legislation and guidelines on self-regulation to ensure that children are targeted less, and the latter claiming that these efforts are insufficient or ineffective.

The figures that will interest health watchdogs are those concerning the product categories which are being advertised. Although confectionery, cereal, non-alcoholic drinks, fast food and dairy retain the combined majority market share of food advertising on television, all of these categories – with the exception of dairy – have seen a decrease in annual child-themed ad-spend.

A child-themed advert is defined as an advert that contains a connection to a children’s TV programme, film, book, computer game or a licensed character, a free gift, or a novelty product or packaging designed to appear to children.

The spend for fast food plummeted by 71 per cent from 2003 to 2007, and confectionery has seen a 62 per cent drop. Ad-spend for non-alcoholic drinks dropped by 52 per cent overall, in spite of a 23 per cent increase in 2006. The spend for cereal dropped by 37 per cent. The only category to receive for money for child-themed ad-spend was dairy, which rose by 4 per cent.

A shift in attention?

Advertisers may be shifting their attention to other media, though. In the press, money spent on general food and drink child-themed advertising between 2003 and 2007 increased from £4.7m to £6.7 – a rise of 42 per cent. Overall food and drink advertising spend in the press rose by £107m – a jump of 159 per cent – doubling its market share in the process.

Annual child-themed ad-spend in radio, cinema and internet also increased, rising by 11 per cent from £2.03m to £2.26m.

UK Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo responded to the report: “I am pleased that there are now fewer ads on TV that are tempting our children into bad eating habits – but we must keep our eye on other types of media. I hope that the industry will continue to play its part in reducing the exposure that children have to the promotion of food which is high in fat, salt or sugar.”

The report comes shortly after claims made by the consumer watchdog Which? that new rules introduced at the start of the year prohibiting the advertisement of HFSS foods in or around programmes made for children or which are likely to appeal to children are not proving effective, an accusation which has been refuted by the Advertising Association.

Childhood obesity statistics are a major cause for concern for the DoH. In 2006-7 it weighed 80 per cent of the UK’s 4-10 year-olds, the largest-ever survey of its kind. It showed that almost 23 per cent of four to five year-olds were overweight or obese, with 31.6 per cent of 10-11 year-olds falling into these categories.

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