Protect children from all unhealthy food advertising, say health experts

28 February 2019

A new survey by the Obesity Health Alliance (OHA), of which the BDA is a member, has revealed clear support among the UK public for far-reaching restrictions on adverts for foods high in fat, sugar and salt. This comes as the 44-strong alliance of health charities, medical colleges and campaign groups has today published a new position statement calling for children to be protected from unhealthy food adverts across all media, both in and out of the home.

The OHA wants to see a 9pm watershed on these adverts implemented across all media devices and channels to protect children from the harmful effects of marketing of foods high in fat, sugar and salt. This 9pm watershed should include live TV, TV on demand, radio, all types of online, social media, apps, in-game, cinema and digital outdoor advertising such as billboards.

Online polling reveals that public also support these measures, with:

  • "69% of people agreeing that children seeing junk food marketing contributes to childhood obesity"
  • "72% supporting a 9pm watershed on junk food adverts during popular family TV shows"
  • "70% supporting a 9pm watershed on junk food adverts online"
  • "68% supporting a 9pm watershed on junk food adverts digital advertising outside of the home (e.g. cinemas, digital posters at bus stops/ on roadsides)"

One in three children in England leaves primary school with overweight or obesity, increasing their risk of developing serious health conditions like Type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart and liver disease in later life. With the Government preparing to launch a consultation on advertising restrictions as part of its Childhood Obesity Plan, the OHA believes the time is now to send a clear message to industry and the public that advertising junk food to children is unacceptable.

Caroline Cerny, Obesity Health Alliance Lead said:

“The evidence is clear: seeing junk food adverts influences what and how much our children eat. This can lead them to pester their parents to buy unhealthy products and consume excess calories and sugar.

With over two-thirds of the public agreeing with the evidence – that junk food advertising contributes to childhood obesity – it is clear that urgent action is wanted as well as needed. The way children are consuming media is changing significantly, so any Government policy needs to address adverts across a wide range of media channels, both in and out of the home. A 9pm watershed across all types of junk advertising is the clearest, most effective measure to ensure that advertising revenue cannot simply be displaced to other types of media, protecting children from the harms of junk food advertising wherever they may be”.

Existing regulations that are intended to protect children from high fat, sugar and salt food advertising were introduced for TV in 2007 and the non-broadcast environment in 2017. However, there are significant loopholes in these rules. Firstly, they only restrict junk food adverts when a TV show, film or website is designed specifically for children or considered to be ‘of particular appeal’ to them. They do not cover the times when children are most likely to be watching their favourite shows like the X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, i.e. between 6pm and 9pm – so-called ‘family viewing time’. Secondly, existing rules to do not cover the vast array of channels and outlets through which children consume media in 2019. Children’s media time is split between watching TV, going online using their mobile phone and playing games on gaming devices. 

Notes to Editor

  1. All polling figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2078 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 12th - 13th February 2019. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

  2. The Obesity Health Alliance is a coalition of health charities, medical royal colleges and campaign groups working together to reduce obesity. A full list of members is here:


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