UK bans junk food adverts on TV before 9pm to tackle child obesity

London - Govt bans adverts related to foods high in fat, salt and sugar.

By Prasun Sonwalkar

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Published: Thu 24 Jun 2021, 4:18 PM

Last updated: Thu 24 Jun 2021, 4:19 PM

The United Kingdom (UK) government on Thursday (June 24) announced a ban on advertising related to junk food on television before 9pm as part of plans to tackle child obesity, a growing health issue in the country.

The plans will help protect children from developing long-term unhealthy eating habits and improve the nation's health, officials said, adding that the plans could wipe over 7 billion calories from the national diet every year.

The advert ban relates to foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS).

The idea is that children’s health will be improved because the new restrictions will mean they are less exposed to advertising of unhealthy foods. The new regulations announced following a public consultation will come into force at the end of next year.

The ban will not apply from 9pm to 5.30am, and as a result, HFSS adverts can only be shown during these times. A total of 79 per cent of public consultation respondents supported a 9pm watershed on TV while 74 per cent agreed with the introduction of further HFSS advertising restrictions online.

Jo Churchill, the UK’s Minister for Public Health, said: “The content youngsters see can have an impact on the choices they make and habits they form. With children spending more time online it is vital we act to protect them from unhealthy advertising”.

She added: “We need to take urgent action to level up health inequalities. This action on advertising will help to wipe billions off the national calorie count and give our children a fair chance of a healthy lifestyle”.

In order to keep the restrictions proportional, the regulations will apply to food and drink products of most concern to childhood obesity and will ensure the healthiest in each category will be able to continue to advertise. This approach means foods such as honey, olive oil, avocados and Marmite are excluded from the restrictions.

Online restrictions will be limited to paid-for advertising, ensuring brands can continue to advertise within ‘owned media’ spaces online, such as a brand’s own blog, website, mobile application (app) or social media page.

It is estimated that one in three children leave primary school overweight or obese, with obesity-related illnesses costing the National Health Service (NHS) £6 billion (Dh30.66 billion) a year. Covid-19 has further highlighted how important it is to tackle obesity, with excess weight being a risk factor for more severe disease, officials added.

The government estimates there were around 2.9 billion child HFSS TV impacts and 11 billion impressions online - defined as an individual seeing a single advert one time - in the UK in 2019.

The new rules were drawn up following concerns that current advertising regulations do not go far enough to protect children from seeing a significant amount of unhealthy food adverts on TV and existing regulation does not account for the increasing amount of time children are spending online.

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AFP photo used for illustrative purpose
AFP photo used for illustrative purpose

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