The health of children across the UK will be improved as new restrictions will mean they are less exposed to advertising of unhealthy foods, the government has announced today.
Following a public consultation, regulations will come into force at the end of next year to introduce a 9pm watershed for advertisements of foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS).
The new rules apply to TV and UK on-demand programmes, as well as restrictions on paid-for advertising of HFSS foods online as part of the government’s ongoing commitment to tackle unhealthy eating habits at source.
The watershed will apply from 9pm to 5.30am, meaning HFSS adverts can only be shown during these times. A total of 79% of public consultation respondents supported a 9pm watershed on TV while 74% agreed with the introduction of further HFSS advertising restrictions online.
Childhood obesity is a complex problem, caused by different factors, and the government is committed to a wide set of actions. Today’s vital change represents another important step forward in the government’s drive to reduce childhood obesity and level up health inequalities across the nation.
Public Health Minister, Jo Churchill, said:
In order to keep the restrictions proportional, these new 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.
The restrictions will apply to all businesses with 250 or more employees that make and/or sell HFSS products, meaning small and medium businesses will be able to continue advertising. The government recognises these companies may be some of the hardest hit by the pandemic and rely on online media as the sole way to communicate with their customers.
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, app or social media page.
The TV and online restrictions could remove up to 7.2 billion calories from children’s diets per year in the UK which, over the coming years, could reduce the number of obese children by more than 20,000.
One in three children leave primary school overweight or obese, with obesity-related illnesses costing the NHS £6 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.
Evidence shows exposure to HFSS advertising can affect when children eat and what they eat and, over time, excess calorie consumption can lead to children becoming overweight or obese.
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.
Restricting the amount of these products advertised will encourage healthier food choices and will help to reduce the number of children living with obesity and going on to develop conditions associated with excess weight, such as type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, colorectal cancer, liver disease and breast cancer later in life.
The Office for Health Promotion – launching fully later this year – will lead national efforts to improve and level up the health of the nation by continuing the fight against obesity, improving mental health and promoting physical activity.
Current advertising regulations are not going 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.
Analysis from September 2019 demonstrated that almost half (47.6%) of all food adverts shown over the month on ITV1, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky1 were for products high in fat, salt and sugar, rising to nearly 60% between 6pm and 9pm. Ofcom research suggests that children’s viewing peaks in the hours after school, with the largest number of child viewers concentrated around family viewing time, between 6pm and 9pm.
The measures set out today form part of the government’s legislative response to tackling obesity. The government say it is committed to working alongside industry and will issue guidance to help prepare for this transition.