Junk food ad curbs to be extendedBut Which? says they still miss the mark

31 December 2007

boy eating doughnut

Curbs on junk food ads in children's TV will be extended from tomorrow to cover programmes that appeal to kids aged up to 16.

Since last April, the restrictions have covered ad breaks in shows made for children, and shows 'likely to be of particular appeal' to the age range of four to nine.

Now the curbs, which ban ads for foods high in fat, salt or sugar, will also cover shows that appeal to kids aged up to 16.

Watershed ban

But Which? believes the entire approach has missed the real problem, and we've called for a 9pm watershed for junk food ads.

Research we carried out in September found that 18 of the 20 programmes most watched by children under 16 years old wouldn't have been covered by curbs coming into force tomorrow.

That's because the rules - developed by broadcast regulator Ofcom - are based on the proportion of children watching a programme, rather than the actual number. 

So some popular programmes may have a high number of children viewing, but aren't covered. For example, under tomorrow's new curbs, junk food ads would have been banned during The Simpsons - with a child audience of 430,000 - but would have been allowed during Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, which had a child audience of almost 1 million.

Chocolate ads

Which? analysis of adverts during the programmes with the most child viewers revealed that products such as Mars Planets, Kinder Bueno, Milky Way, Smarties and Twix were being advertised at these times. We found that unhealthy foods were advertised during all 18 of the programmes which wouldn't have been covered by the curbs.

Which? food campaigner Colin Walker said:'The UK is in the grip of what the Chief Medical Officer has described as an obesity "timebomb". A recent government report has predicted that 70% of girls and 55% of boys will be overweight or obese by 2050. 

'Tackling the promotion of unhealthy foods to children is one of the key ways to combat this epidemic, yet the inadequacy of the restrictions being brought into force show that the government is not doing enough to protect our children. The advertising of unhealthy foods has to be prevented at the times when children are watching TV in the greatest numbers, and the introduction of a 9pm watershed is the best means of achieving this.'

Private Member's Bill

Former Consumer Minister Nigel Griffiths MP has tabled a Private Member's Bill that would introduce a 9pm watershed along with restrictions on adverts in non-broadcast media, such as the internet. 

Which? is calling on politicians from all parties to support this bill. Consumers can help us by writing to their local MP to urge them to vote for this bill when it receives its second reading on the 25 April 2008.