In its ongoing battle to tackle childhood obesity, the UK government is to ban online advertising for junk food on sites where under-16s make up a quarter of the audience – with the new rules coming into effect from 1 July 2017.
This follows an announcement earlier this month that a ‘sugar tax’ is to be imposed on sugar-sweetened drinks from April next year.
The Committee on Advertising Practice (CAP) told the BBC said the new rules would bring non-broadcast media, such as online, social media, cinema and billboard advertising, in line with TV rules introduced in 2007, which restricted the advertising of junk food during children’s TV programmes.
The rules are an attempt to help tackle obesity when children are spending more time online than ever before. But critics say the new rules do not go far enough and may not have any impact. They point to the thousands of children watching TV shows and videos online not specifically targeted at children, which these rules will not cover.
The CAP said the rules were a response to research suggesting children aged five to 15 spent about 15 hours online every week which is more than time spent watching TV.
Recent figures showed a third of children in the UK were overweight or obese by the time they left primary school.
Professor Neena Modi, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said the measures would help in the fight against the damaging effects of junk food and fizzy drinks.
“Surely it is time for government to strengthen rules around all advertising, and in particular ban the advertising of foods high in salt, sugar and fat on television before the 9pm watershed,” she told the BBC.
And Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said the advertising restrictions were encouraging but the real test would be whether they made any difference to the exposure of high sugar, salt and fat products to children and young people.
Children need to be protected from pervasive junk food adverts in apps, social media and video blogs, the World Health Organization said last month, warning that parents are often unaware of the sheer volume of such adverts as they are precisely targeting children. The WHO also criticised governments for failing to keep up with a revolution in the way people consume media.
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