UK Government consults on banning online ads for foods high in sugar, fat and salt
The UK government has launched a new consultation on proposals to ban online adverts for foods high in fat, sugar and salt within food ranges including confectionery, to tackle the obesity crisis, and encourage greater levels of fitness.
Its latest move comes as research shows children are exposed to over 15 billion adverts for products high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) online every year – and as Confectionery Production has recently reported, social media has also played a notable role in that rise.
As the government noted, the urgency of tackling obesity has been brought to the fore by evidence of the link to an increased risk from COVID-19, as the pandemic recently passed a major milestone of 50,000 coronavirus deaths in Britain.
Evidence shows that exposure to HFSS advertising can affect what children eat and when they eat, both in the short term by increasing the amount of food children eat immediately after being exposed to an advert, and by shaping longer-term food preferences from a young age.
The new consultation, which will run for 6 weeks, will gather views from the public and industry stakeholders to understand the impact and challenges of introducing a total ban on the advertising of these products online, to help people live healthier lives and tackle childhood obesity.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “I am determined to help parents, children and families in the UK make healthier choices about what they eat.
We know as children spend more time online, parents want to be reassured they are not being exposed to adverts promoting unhealthy foods, which can affect eating habits for life.
“This will be a world-leading measure to tackle the obesity challenges we face now but it will also address a problem that will only become more prominent in the future.
Public Health Minister Jo Churchill said: “It’s vital we build on the world-leading obesity measures announced in July to ensure our efforts to tackle childhood obesity have the greatest impact.
“We have already committed to restricting HFSS adverts on television before 9pm. But we also need to go further and address how children can be influenced online, where they are spending more and more of their time. This is part of a package of measures to help families. We want to support people of all ages to make healthier choices.”
Further advertising restrictions are widely supported by the public, with polling from 2019 showing that 72% of public support a 9pm watershed on junk food adverts during popular family TV shows and that 70% support a 9pm watershed online.
The announcement is part of a raft of measures in the government’s strategy to tackle obesity and get the nation fit and healthy. Obesity is one of the biggest health crises the country faces. Almost two-thirds (63%) of adults in England are overweight or living with obesity – and 1 in 3 children leave primary school overweight or obese, with obesity-related illnesses costing the NHS £6 billion a year.
Living with excess weight puts people at greater risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19, with risk growing substantially as body mass index (BMI) increases. Nearly 8% of critically ill patients with COVID-19 in intensive care units have been morbidly obese, compared with 2.9% of the general population.