Analysis carried out by the Obesity Health Alliance (OHA) reveals €161m (£143m) a year is spent on advertising by crisp, confectionary and sugary drinks brands.
This dwarfs the €5.8m (£5.2m) spent annually by the Government on its flagship health eating campaign.
“It’s like a very unbalanced diet – with children’s health getting a raw deal,” said the Alliance’s lead Caroline Cerny.
“Junk food companies are spending tens of millions of pounds a year on promoting their products. Government healthy eating campaigns cannot possibly compete.
“The OHA also wants to see marketing rules extended to cover sponsorship of sports, family attractions and marketing communications in schools.”
Flagship policy reliance
Anti-obesity campaigners join the World Health Organisation (WHO) in claiming that a lack of regulation managing digital advertising is undermining other actions taken to solve rising levels of childhood obesity.
The UK’s childhood obesity strategy, launched over a year ago, has faced criticism over its lack of detail and a delay in implementing commitments.
The Government’s flagship policy – the tax on sugar-sweetened drinks – have been offset by a delay in expanding the rules governing the marketing of foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) to non-broadcast media (including social media).
“The role of advertising in driving us towards unhealthy foods cannot be underestimated, especially when it comes to children,” said Malcolm Clark, coordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign.
“This is why chocolate and crisps brands are pumping millions into advertising every year. We need the Government to go further to protect children from junk food marketing and to safeguard their future health and to avoid having to spend millions dealing with the consequences down the line.”
The OHA is calling on Government to close existing loopholes to restrict children’s exposure to junk food marketing across all media, including on TV prior to the 9pm watershed.
Current regulations overseen by The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), a self-regulatory body, ban child-targeted adverts for food and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) shown on non-broadcast media, social media, print, posters and cinema.
The regulations are relevant to all media where children make up a quarter of the audience. Advertisers are also restricted in their use of characters or celebrities if the content is marketed at children under the age of 12 years old.
'Child protection at the heart'
“The tougher new advertising food rules are a significant and positive change designed to help protect the health and well being of children,” said CAP chairman, James Best.
“These measures demonstrate the advertising industry’s continuing commitment to putting the protection of children at the heart of its work.
“The new rules will alter the nature and balance of food advertisings seen by children and play a meaningful part in helping change their relationship with less healthy foods.”