A statement from the Department of Health and Social Care and Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport said research shows children are exposed to over 15 billion adverts for products high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) online every year.
Government evidence shows that exposure to HFSS advertising can affect what children eat and when they eat, both in the short term by increasing the amount of food children eat immediately after being exposed to an advert, and by shaping longer-term food preferences from a young age.
The new consultation, which will run for six weeks, will gather views from the public and industry stakeholders to understand the impact and challenges of introducing a total ban on the advertising of these products online, to help people live healthier lives and tackle childhood obesity.
Professor Graham MacGregor, Chair of Action on Sugar told ConfectioneryNews: “We very much welcome this consultation on whether only healthy food and drink should be advertised online as it gives the opportunity for ministers to hear from the many parents who are frustrated with their children being bombarded with advertising for unhealthy foods.
“As the message from the government has been to 'stay home' for much of the year in the fight against COVID-19, this will have no doubt vastly increased children’s exposure to such irresponsible marketing which casts unhealthy products in the spotlight.
“It’s therefore vital that a total ban across all online platforms is introduced which would ensure that all loopholes, including paid-for promotions whereby brands are using marketing techniques to push junk food ads, would be firmly closed and help turn the tide on obesity."
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “I am determined to help parents, children and families in the UK make healthier choices about what they eat.
“We know as children spend more time online, parents want to be reassured they are not being exposed to adverts promoting unhealthy foods, which can affect eating habits for life.
“This will be a world-leading measure to tackle the obesity challenges we face now but it will also address a problem that will only become more prominent in the future.”
The new announcement is part of a raft of measures in the government’s strategy to tackle obesity and get the nation fit and healthy, and the urgency of tackling obesity has been brought to the fore by evidence of the link to an increased risk from COVID-19.
If implemented, the ban would affect digital marketing, from ads on Facebook, to paid-search results on Google, text message promotions, and social media activity on Twitter and Instagram.