Food ads to kids to be restricted

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Drink advertising Nutrition

Proposed guidelines to restrict food advertising directed at
children will herald a new era of tighter regulatory control in the
UK, according to food law experts at Eversheds.

The proposals, which were published by Ofcom for consultation today, will replace the current emphasis on industry self-regulation.

But they also fall short of the proposed blanket ban that many in the industry feared.

"The proposals will inevitably renew industry debate about the impact of advertising on childrens eating and drinking behaviour,"​ said Nikki Ferguson, associate and food law specialist at Eversheds.

"The latest Ofcom research acknowledges that such advertising has a modest direct effect even though earlier research was less conclusive.

"In principle the consultation will be welcomed by food and drink manufacturers as it stops short of the complete ban on pre-9pm HFSS (high in fat, salt and sugar) advertising that had been mooted."

The new guidelines have been published amid rising consumer concern about childhood obesity and over-consumption of food and drink products that are high in fat, salt and sugar.

"Proposals to increase regulation in open and competitive markets should always be subject to rigorous scrutiny,"​ said Ofcom chief executive Stephen Carter.

"With childhood obesity, the case for targeted action has been made; but which action and how this should be implemented is the focus for this final stage of consultation."

All of the options set out by Ofcom have two things in common: a ban on food and drink advertising or sponsorship to pre-school children and a set of eight rules about the content of food and drink advertising set out by the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP).

Options include proposed time restrictions for advertising specific products or all food and drink advertising and volume-based restrictions, to limit the amount of airtime given to food and drink advertising at peak family viewing times.

Some food manufacturers however believe that proposed regulatory intervention is unnecessary.

"To some extent the food and drink industry has already demonstrated its ability to self-regulate, with some choosing to withdraw from targeting advertising to younger children,"​ said Ferguson.

The consultation on Ofcoms proposed guidelines to restrict food and drink advertising closes on 6 June 2006.

Ofcom's proposals

Ofcom has set out four alternative proposals for new restrictions.

OPTION 1: Timing restrictions on specific food and drink products.

No HFSS product advertising to be shown in programmes specifically made for children;

No HFSS product advertising to be shown in programmes of particular appeal to children up to 9 years old;

No sponsorship by HFSS products of programmes affected by the above restrictions;

BCAPs rules will be applied to food and drink advertising and sponsorship.

OPTION 2: Timing restrictions on all food and drink advertising.

No food or drink advertising to be shown in programmes specifically made for children;

No food or drink advertising to be shown in programmes of particular appeal to children up to 9 years old;

No sponsorship by food or drink products of programmes affected by the above restrictions;

The above restrictions do not apply to healthy eating campaigns supported or endorsed by the Government;

BCAPs rules will be applied to food and drink advertising and sponsorship.

OPTION 3: Volume based restrictions on all food and drink products.

No food or drink advertising at all to be shown in programmes made for pre-school children.

A limit to the amount of food and drink advertising when children are most likely to be watching.

BCAPs rules will be applied to food and drink advertising and sponsorship.

OPTION 4: an invitation to propose a workable and effective option, combining some or all of the above and/or new elements, which commands industry support

With this last option Ofcom is making an open invitation to all parties to put forward an alternative common position, if one can be identified, through the consultation process.

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