In a survey for Ofcom, Opinion Leader Research found that people backed tougher controls, including a ban on TV ads for food and drink products high in salt, fat and sugar, which are aimed at pre-school children.
But a majority rejected a complete ban in all airtime, saying a ban before the 9pm watershed would be "disproportionate" to the impact of TV ads on children's choices.
Sue Eustace, the director of public affairs at the Advertising Association, said the research indicated that a more moderate approach than a pre-9pm ban was warranted.
Suzanne Edmond, the public affairs manager at the Food Advertising Unit, said adults and parents alike regarded the proposed pre-watershed ban as both unnecessary and undesirable, and urged Ofcom to find a "middle way".
Ofcom is due to publish its conclusions before Christmas, and the research may reduce the prospects of a ban, as the communications regulator has said its decision will be "evidence-based". There is speculation that Ed Richards, a former aide to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, who was appointed as Ofcom's new chief executive last week, will take a more decisive stance on content issues than Stephen Carter, the outgoing head, did.
Consumer and health campaigners renewed the call for a pre-9pm ban. Which? and 23 other organisations have written to Ofcom warning that efforts to improve the diet and health of children would be undermined unless it takes "effective action".
Media forum, page 6.