New public consultation on total ban of online advertising for unhealthy foods

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  • Proposal to ban online adverts promoting food high in fat, sugar and salt.
  • Ban would help protect children from developing long-term unhealthy eating habits.
  • Part of government’s landmark obesity strategy to help everyone live healthier lives.

A new consultation has been launched on proposals to ban online adverts for foods high in fat, sugar and salt in the UK to tackle the obesity crisis and get the nation fit and healthy.

Research shows children are exposed to over 15 billion adverts for products high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) online every year.

Evidence shows that exposure to HFSS advertising can affect what children eat and when they eat, both in the short term by increasing the amount of food children eat immediately after being exposed to an advert, and by shaping longer-term food preferences from a young age.

The new consultation, which will run for 6 weeks, will gather views from the public and industry stakeholders to understand the impact and challenges of introducing a total ban on the advertising of these products online, to help people live healthier lives and tackle childhood obesity.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said:

I am determined to help parents, children and families in the UK make healthier choices about what they eat.

We know as children spend more time online, parents want to be reassured they are not being exposed to adverts promoting unhealthy foods, which can affect eating habits for life.

This will be a world-leading measure to tackle the obesity challenges we face now but it will also address a problem that will only become more prominent in the future.

Public Health Minister Jo Churchill said:

It’s vital we build on the world-leading obesity measures announced in July to ensure our efforts to tackle childhood obesity have the greatest impact.

We have already committed to restricting HFSS adverts on television before 9pm. But we also need to go further and address how children can be influenced online, where they are spending more and more of their time.

This is part of a package of measures to help families. We want to support people of all ages to make healthier choices.

Further advertising restrictions are widely supported by the public, with polling from 2019 showing that 72% of public support a 9pm watershed on junk food adverts during popular family TV shows and that 70% support a 9pm watershed online.

Today’s announcement is part of a raft of measures in the government’s strategy to tackle obesity and get the nation fit and healthy.

Obesity is one of the biggest health crises the country faces. Almost two-thirds (63%) of adults in England are overweight or living with obesity – and 1 in 3 children leave primary school overweight or obese, with obesity-related illnesses costing the NHS £6 billion a year.

The urgency of tackling obesity has been brought to the fore by evidence of the link to an increased risk from COVID-19.

Living with excess weight puts people at greater risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19, with risk growing substantially as body mass index (BMI) increases. Nearly 8% of critically ill patients with COVID-19 in intensive care units have been morbidly obese, compared with 2.9% of the general population.

Background information

The consultation was announced as a measure as part of the government’s tackling obesity strategy announced in July.

A total ban on online HFSS adverts would:

  • future-proof how we tackle childhood obesity – children’s media habits are changing, and they are spending more time online. 5 to 15 year-olds now spend 20 minutes more online each day than watching TV and there has been a 450% increase in spend on online food and drink advertising from 2010 to 2017
  • help to tackle a lack of transparency – there is no independent public data to reliably monitor the extent to which children are exposed to HFSS adverts online, and the lack of transparency from online platforms means there is limited material with which to reassure government that our children are adequately protected online from HFSS advertising

OFCOM Children’s Media Use and Attitudes Report 2019

OFCOM Children and parents: media use and attitudes report 2018

WHO evidence showing the impact of advertising food high in fat, sugar and salt on children

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