Two-thirds of British parents back extended junk food ad ban

By Joyeeta Basu

- Last updated on GMT

Studies have found that more children watch family-orientated television shows till 9pm
Studies have found that more children watch family-orientated television shows till 9pm

Related tags Junk food Nutrition Advertising

The Royal College of Paediatrics has found two-thirds of Britons support banning advertising of food high in fat, sugar and salt on TV before 9pm.

In a poll published this week, it found nine in ten Britons want children’s healthcare to be priority for NHS. It has now called on politicians to protect child health with bold policies. 

Consultant Paediatrician at RCPCH Dr Rahul Chodhari told Food Navigator that parents want the ban on the advertising of junk food – which currently only applies to 6pm – to be extended to a 9pm watershed. “All we are asking for are three more hours,”​ he said.

Chodhari added that though the food industry has come a long way in being sensitive to consumer expectations and giving clear and honest product claims, it still has more to do. “The impact of the ads on children’s health is disproportionately large,” ​he said.

The UK has the highest rate of obesity in Western Europe, said Chodhari. One in three children will be obese by year six in the next five to ten years. The direct cost to the NHS is £5bn (€6.89bn)a year, he added. The NHS has seen a four-fold increase in hospital admissions related to obesity in recent years, he added.  Comparing the TV ads ban to the smoking ban which “has improved public health,” ​he said: “This is a similar opportunity for the entire nation to do something about.”

“TV ads have a big impact on children’s eating habits. A poll of more than 1,000 parents by the Children's Food Trust found that more than half thought adverts for junk food made it harder for them to give their children healthy diets,” ​he added.

TV watching

A study by the University of Liverpool found that many more children watch family-orientated television shows such as X-Factor, The Simpsons and Hollyoaks than children’s programmes. Separate statistics from Ofcom said that their viewing peaks from 4pm to 8.30pm before dropping off from 9pm, according to co-ordinator of Children's Food Campaign (CFC) Malcolm Clark.

Analysis of research commissioned by the CFC and the British Heart Foundation last year found almost one in four TV ads shown between 8pm-9pm were for food, with viewers seeing as many as six junk food adverts per hour. “To us it makes complete sense to tighten existing rules. It should be a fairly simple change in existing Ofcom rules,” ​said Clark.

Online marketing

Besides TV ads, Clark said the existing rules for non-broadcast media are vague and inadequate.

The category for non-broadcast junk food marketing aimed at children includes marketing on social media sites, text messaging and the internet.

"We are calling for tougher rules for online media too,” said Clark.

However, Chodhariadded that research found it was TV ads that have the biggest impact on children under five. “Research show that the ads have the biggest impact on children under five as they cannot tell the difference between ads and facts. 

The Director of Communications at the Food and Drink Federation in the UK Nick Court told FoodNavigator that the country has one of the strictest advertising regulatory regimes in the world regarding the foods that can be advertised to children on TV. "These rules are comprehensively adhered to and enforced. Many companies go even further, developing their own responsible marketing guidelines and making voluntary commitments," ​he said.

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