Response to new rules protecting children from ‘junk food’ advertising

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The Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine (FSEM) UK welcomes new rules by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) to ban the advertising of high fat, salt and sugar food and drink products in children’s media and supports both the Obesity Health Alliance (OHA) and the Children’s Food Campaign in their responses to the measures, calling for loopholes to be closed.

The FSEM, as part of the OHA, is calling for a sustained increase in regular physical activity, according to UK Chief Medical Officer guidelines, to be part of all childrens’ daily routines to prevent and manage obesity, alongside measures to reduce the consumption of less healthy food and drink.

Dr Natasha Jones, Vice President of the Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine, comments: “We recognise the importance of reducing exposure to unhealthy food and drink advertising creating a less obesogenic environment for our children. Healthcare focus and policy should also be strongly directed towards promoting physical activity to prevent chronic disease and childhood obesity.”

Children and young people should aim for at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day, this can be made easier by incorporating a favourite indoor or outdoor physical activity spread throughout the day and encouraging walking and climbing the stairs wherever possible.”

OHA statement:

“We welcome CAP’s long awaited rules to protect children from junk food marketing across all types of media and are pleased to see them recognise that restrictions should apply to kids up to the age of 16. But it’s concerning that the new restrictions only apply when it can be shown that at least 25% of the audience are children. This loophole means that a significant number of children could still be exposed to adverts for high fat, salt and sugary products.

Children aged 5-15 spend up to 15 hours a week online – so it’s absolutely right that they’re protected from junk food marketing. Research shows advertising greatly influences the food children choose to eat, and with one third of children overweight or obese by their eleventh birthday, we need to protect them from relentless junk food marketing in all walks of life.”

Children’s Food Campaign statement:

“The Committee of Advertising Practice has finally listened to the voices of parents and health professionals, after years of resisting calls for stronger measures to reduce children’s exposure to junk food marketing online. The new rules, which prohibit HFSS advertising from appearing in children’s media, are a positive step and go some way to removing the most blatant forms of advertising of less healthy food and drink to under 16s.

But CAP has failed to learn the lessons from industry’s exploitation of loopholes in TV advertising regulations.  Just as many of the TV programmes most watched by children aren’t covered by the rules, so it looks like many of the most popular social media sites won’t be either; neither will billboards near schools, or product packaging itself.

Unfortunately, the power still seems to be very much in the hands of manufacturers and advertisers, not parents.  Instead of a comprehensive and transparent definition of what constitutes marketing ‘directly appealing to children’, which Children’s Food Campaign proposed, CAP will only apply the restrictions when children are over 25% of the audience. This figure provides insufficient protection to children, whilst giving parents little knowledge of what is and isn’t covered. Parents will also be disappointed to find out there will be no restrictions on sugary food and drink emblazoned with children’s favourite cartoon or film characters, or in the use of child-friendly brand characters on packaging either. 

Ultimately, the new rules are only as good as the body which enforces them.  We hope that from July 2017 CAP and the Advertising Standards Authority will ensure companies follow both the letter and the spirit of these new rules, and close any loopholes which arise.”

The FSEM is continuing to work alongside Public Health England and the Royal College of General Practitioners to ensure physical activity assessment, advice and exercise medicine can be a key part of the NHS to prevent and manage many common conditions, including childhood obesity.