The Fabian Society, an influential think-tank affiliated to the Labour Party, called in a report for a ban on television commercials for drinks and sweets before the 9pm watershed and at poster sites near schools.
Howard Stoate, a Labour MP and GP, who wrote the report, said the Code of Advertising Practice banned ads for alcohol or potentially dangerous products to children but was difficult to enforce when it came to foods high in saturated fats, sugar or salt. Ads for these products now "dominated our airwaves and print media" and projected a totally unbalanced message at odds with the Government's guidelines on healthy eating.
Stoate said: "There are twice as many adverts for products like this during Saturday morning television than there are after the post-9pm watershed. Nor is there anything to stop companies from sponsoring programmes aimed at children should they wish."
The MP added that the Government should go one step further than its ban on tobacco advertising by stopping food and drink advertising to children, a move which would give schools and health education bodies a genuine opportunity to promote healthy eating.
Whitehall officials said ministers would keep the existing code under review but were opposed to the ban proposed by the Fabian Society. "We believe the best way forward is to make the existing voluntary approach work rather than impose legislation," a source said.