Online junk food ads given all clear

Evidence that junk food ads appearing on social networks, vlogs and apps are contributing to child obesity is limited, a review has claimed.

Junk food: evidence that online ads impact children is inconclusive
Junk food: evidence that online ads impact children is inconclusive

The Committee of Advertising Practice (Cap) has said there is no need for an update on the rules governing how food and drink is marketed to children online, following a commissioned review.

Carried out by Family Kids & Youth, the review looked at existing studies on the impact of online food and drink ads on children. Despite months of research, the report found the evidence was "inconclusive".

Although Cap admitted certain types of ads, such as interactive "advergames", could boost children's interest in unhealthy foods, it claimed there was little evidence that interest translated into actual consumption.

Cap quoted Loughborough researcher, David Buckingham, as saying, "An expressed preference for ‘unhealthy’ foods – let alone things like brand recognition or brand preference – among children cannot on its own be taken to result in (or be equated with) obesity."


The lack of findings has led Cap to conclude its existing rules around online marketing are sound. It has published interim advice repeating that marketers must clearly label food and drink ads appearing online, particularly where it may be unclear.

The Children's Food Campaign, a lobby group that has blasted the ad industry for not doing enough to tackle junk food ads, said it was "unsurprised".

A spokesman said in a statement: "The Children’s Food Campaign is disappointed but not surprised that the industry body which sets the marketing rules has concluded that the rules governing online marketing to children 'currently in place are providing the right level of protection'."


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