Downing Street has unveiled plans to implement a total ban on online junk food advertising – the world’s toughest digital marketing restrictions – in a bid to tackle the growing obesity crisis.
While health activists welcomed the proposed ban, which is now the subject of a six-week consultation, it stunned the advertising industry, which called it indiscriminate and draconian.
The new rules, which go much further than the summer proposals, would affect foods deemed too high in fat, salt and sugar. However, a range of foods, from avocados and pots to jam and cream, could be fished alongside what is considered traditional ‘junk food’.
Matt Hancock, Health Secretary, said: “I am committed to helping parents, children and families in the UK make healthier choices about what they eat. We know kids are spending more time online. Parents want reassurance that they are not exposed to advertisements promoting unhealthy foods, which can affect lifestyle habits. “
The stricter-than-expected rules came after Boris Johnson changed his mind about personal health decisions in the wake of his coronavirus infection. Overweight people are at risk of more serious illness from Covid, or death. Research has shown that one in three children leaving primary school are overweight or obese, as are almost two-thirds of adults in England.
The consultation cited research indicating that children were exposed to increasing online advertising of junk food. The government estimated that children under 16 were exposed to 15 billion online junk food ads in 2019, up from around 700 million two years earlier.
If implemented, the ban would affect digital marketing, from ads on Facebook and paid search results on Google, to SMS promotions and social media activity on Twitter and Instagram.
“It would be a leading policy to improve the health of children,” said Fran Bernhardt, coordinator of the Feeding Children Campaign. “Online ads have put unhealthy food in the lead for too long. Current regulations are insufficient to protect children. Companies that promote healthier food have nothing to fear. “
Violations of the new rules would be enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority, which has the power to ban ads that violate the UK code. The government said if industry regulation failed or advertisers flouted the new rules, more severe statutory penalties would be introduced, such as “civil penalties, including the ability to issue fines.”
The industry said the ban was “severe and disproportionate”. In a statement on behalf of the UK advertising industry, Stephen Woodford, Managing Director of the Advertising Association, said: ‘If this outright ban policy comes to fruition it will deal a blow to UK advertising at a moment when she is in shock. of the impact of Covid-19.
“To use the Prime Minister’s language, this is not a ‘baked’ policy, it is not even half baked. But it contains all the makings of a kick in the teeth for our industry from a government that we believed wanted to prioritize economic growth, as well as targeted interventions to support health and welfare. well-being.