Advertising unhealthy food to kids online could be banned in new consultation

Proposals being considered by the Committee of Advertising Practice could see the advertising of unhealthy food and drink on teen-focused websites banned.

The proposals could see advertising of sugary foods to children outlawed
The proposals could see advertising of sugary foods to children outlawed

In a consultation the launches today, the CAP will look at ideas to update the rules surrounding non-broadcast advertising to children of foods high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) - a move that it said was needed to keep up with the rapidly changing media habits of young people.

Ofcom research last year found that almost all (96%) of the UK’s 12 to 15 year olds spent more time online than watching TV.

But the proposed changes could mean good news for healthier kids’ brands - with a suggestion that current restrictions could be loosened for food and drink products that are not HFSS.

The CAP is considering three main proposals:

  • Introduce a rule to the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Direct and Promotional Marketing to limit where HFSS can be placed in all non-broadcast media, including online

  • Explore through consultation whether the new rule should prohibit HFSS product advertising in media targeted at or of particular appeal to children under 12, or under 16

  • Apply the existing rules, prohibiting the use of promotions and licensed characters and celebrities popular with children, to HFSS product advertising only - allowing more creative ways for healthier foods to be advertised to children

The CAP said the proposals were motivated by the need to tackle what it called the obesity crisis facing the UK - with a third of children currently overweight or obese, and those children more likely to become obese adults.

The CAP's chairman, James Best, said: "Advertising is just one small factor in a very complex equation but we believe we can play a positive part in addressing an urgent societal challenge.

"In proposing new rules, our aim is to strike the right balance between protecting children and enabling businesses to continue advertising their products responsibly."

Brands respond

Matthew Barwell, chief marketing officer at Britvic, welcomed the proposals and said they brought the industry closer to where Britvic was already.

"These proposed changes would lead to greater alignment between the CAP codes and our internal benchmark, which we welcome," he said.

"At Britvic, we never advertise to children under 12 years, use licensed characters in our advertising, associate our brands with online games or engage in in-game marketing. We also never advertise high sugar products to under 16s."

Barwell added that 75% of Britvic's marketing budget was spent on low- and no-sugar products - which include the sugar free Pepsi Max, the best-selling version of Pepsi, along with the Fruit Shoot and Robinson's brands. 

Juice and smoothie brand Innocent said its drinks were not classed as HFSS because they were made entirely from fruit and veg - meaning it would be one brand that could potentially benefit from the more liberal rules being considered.

A spokeswoman for Innocent said: "We are delighted that this new proposal encourages creative ways to help children get more healthy food and drink into their diets."

However, Innocent said it has no plans to change its advertising approach.

Health lobbying group, the Children’s Health Campaign, said it was please the CAP had decided to take action, but that the consultation was too cautious.

"The CAP consultation is a let-down compared to the brave and bold action we saw earlier this year with the Government’s announcement of a sugary drinks levy," CHC co-ordinator Malcolm Clark said.

"It is disappointing that CAP still feels the need to consult on key policy aspects where there is already near unanimous consensus - such as whether the rules should apply to under 12s or under 16s –  while refusing to consult on closing some of the loopholes in its existing rules."

The CAP is inviting responses from individuals and organisations until the consultation closes at 5pm on 22 July.

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