Ofcom's rule changesOfcom junk food ad curbs won't work, says Which?

28 March 2006

Some chips

Which? has slated proposals to curb the amount of junk food TV ads aimed at kids for not going far enough.

Broadcast watchdog Ofcom has launched a ten-week consultation on a series of measures to curb food and drink adverts aimed at children.

The move is in response to rising levels of obesity in young people and specific concerns about children eating too many foods that are high in fat, salt or sugar. In the next two years, 440,000 UK children are predicted to become overweight or obese.

Ofcom's food ad proposals

Ofcom has proposed several alternatives for restricting ads. These include:

  • banning junk food adverts during programmes aimed at children, and in programmes of particular appeal to children aged up to nine years old
  • banning all food or drink advertising in children's programmes or programmes with particular appeal to children aged up to nine, unless they involve healthy eating campaigns supported or endorsed by the government
  • banning all food or drink advertising in programmes made for pre-school children and limiting the amount of food and drink advertising when children are most likely to be watching

Which? wanted a complete ban on junk food ads during the hours that children are watching TV, not just during children's programmes.

Wasted opportunity

Which? Chief Policy Adviser Sue Davies said: 'We are extremely disappointed that Ofcom has wasted this opportunity to really get to grips with the advertising of foods high in fat, sugar and salt whilst children are watching TV.

'After a year of consideration, it has failed to seize the opportunity to tackle childhood obesity and related health problems. It obviously does not have the ability to deal with this pressing public health issue.

'Ofcom has merely acted to pacify industry interests in the short term, but this will ultimately do little to improve children's health.'

She added that, in failing to tackle the issue, Ofcom had put recent measures to improve children's nutrition under threat, and called for the government to step in.

'There is little point in highlighting healthy eating messages in schools if kids are bombarded with confusing TV messages when they get home,' said Ms Davies.

Even with these proposed advertising restrictions, children are still being secretly targeted by junk food advertisers using underhand methods to push unhealthy food. Our Childcatchers report (see related links below) exposes how marketing companies use mobile phones and the internet to bombard youngsters with junk food adverts behind parents' backs.