Childhood obesity-brave and bold action Contents

3 Restrictions on advertising to children

45.Public Health England’s evidence review recommends the following tightening of controls on advertising and marketing to children:

Reducing exposure to marketing by setting broader and deeper controls on advertising of high sugar foods and drinks to children. This could be achieved through a range of specific actions including:

Broadcast media

46.Many organisations have been campaigning for current restrictions on advertising high fat, salt and sugar products—which cannot be advertised during specific children’s programming—to be extended to the 9pm watershed. The argument for such an extension is that the current restrictions miss much of the TV children watch outside specific children’s programming, but during ‘family’ viewing time—for example programmes such as the X-Factor, which are shown early on a Saturday and Sunday evening. Responding to this point, Ian Wright of the Food and Drink Federation argued that the advertisements shown during this programme were not a “carnival of children’s advertising”.47 However, Alison Tedstone of Public Health England did not accept this argument:

Our national diet and nutrition survey clearly shows; children eat pizza, chocolate and crisps. Children are exposed to unhealthy food advertising in family TV schedules that is not captured within the current legislation.48

47.PHE’s evidence review also refutes the claims made by some witnesses that advertising only affects brand preferences:

Promotional and marketing techniques for specific products or brands have the aim of achieving one main goal—increases in sales. This is achieved through old (eg TV advertising, programme sponsorship, cinema, radio and billboards) and new methods (eg social media, advergames and internet pop-ups), which are designed to influence our food choices by, for example, overriding our established eating habits, and taking advantage of others such as our desire to reduce costs. The intent can be to encourage us to switch between brands or products; or there may be an additional consequence of getting us to buy and consume more.

In 2014 the UK food industry spent £256 million promoting ‘unhealthy’ foods sold in retail alone (see figure 6). While these multimillion pound investments are themselves testament to their expected impact in relation to product sales, the behavioural and health impact of these approaches, particularly on children, has been of concern for some time. While many reviews have considered this, one of the earliest was commissioned in 2003 by the Food Standards Agency, which concluded that:

Non-broadcast media

48.Public Health England also make a clear recommendation to extend restrictions on advertising to cover the rapidly developing new forms of advertising taking place in non-broadcast media:

49.They provide further details:

A recent review conducted for the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) found that online advertising has increased significantly in recent years. This coincides with a sharp increase in online media use particularly among children and, it is argued, since regulations were introduced by Ofcom in 2007 restricting advertising during children’s programming. Internet advertising expenditure (including online, mobile and tablet) reached £6.3bn in 2013 in the UK, a 15.6% increase compared to 2012. It is forecast to grow a further 14% in 2014 and 12.7% in 2015. This can be compared to total TV advertising spend of £4.6bn in 2013, £142m of which was spent on children’s TV advertising.51

The evidence demonstrates that although TV remains a dominant marketing technique effective at influencing food preferences, many different types of marketing—including advergames, advertising, use of characters and spokespeople, branding, product size, supermarket product placement and discounting—can all influence preference for high sugar product selection or consumption. For example:

50.In January, the Committee on Advertising Practice will launch a consultation on whether to introduce further restrictions to the non-broadcast advertising, to children, of food and drink high in fat, salt or sugar.53 Witnesses expressed a lack of confidence that the CAP consultation would produce the stronger regulation which they considered was needed and urged bolder action on advertising to protect children’s health.54

Tightening of other advertising and marketing loopholes

51.Public Health England also call for tightening the current nutrient profiling model that governs what can be advertised. Alison Tedstone explained that under the current nutrient profiling system a breakfast cereal that is 22.5% sugar would pass the nutrient profile.55

52.Public Health England also propose that unlicensed but commonly recognised cartoon characters and celebrity endorsement should not be permitted within children’s advertising. Furthermore they argue that consideration should be given to limiting the brand advertising of well recognised less healthy products including through restrictions on sponsorship. Alison Tedstone stated unequivocally that “people such as our sporting heroes affect the food choices of our children.”56 Jeanelle de Gruchy of the Association of Directors of Public Health gave an example of brand sponsorship of physical activity for children:

One of the sugary soft drinks companies is sponsoring park activities for children. You see that happening and that has been taken up by lots of councils, so it is going into local areas to do that. The concern we might have is that, as councils’ budgets are reduced, they will be looking at other ways in which we can improve health and you get into this quite conflicting area again of the sponsorship with the branding of particular drinks or food companies linked to kids being physically active.57

Restrictions on advertising: conclusion

53.We endorse Public Health England’s recommendation of broader and deeper controls on advertising and marketing to children, including extending current restrictions to the full range of programmes that children are likely to watch, as opposed to limiting them just to children’s specific programming. In our view, a logical way to do this would be by restricting all advertising of high fat, salt and sugar foods and drinks to after the 9pm watershed.

54.We also endorse Public Health England’s recommendation of extending current restrictions on advertising to apply across all other forms of broadcast media, social media and advertising, including in cinemas, on posters, in print, online and advergames. In our view this should be implemented without delay, and the scope of the CAP’s forthcoming consultation should not be on whether it should be done, but on how it should be implemented following clear direction from the Government within the childhood obesity strategy.

55.We further support Public Health England’s call to tighten loopholes around the use of non-licensed cartoon characters and celebrities in children’s advertising, and its call to reform the current nutrient profiling system which means that a breakfast cereal which is 22.5% sugar does not fall within the current definitions of a high fat, salt or sugar food, and can therefore be directly advertised to children.

46 Public Health England, Sugar Reduction – the evidence for action, October 2015, p25

47 Q75

48 Q207

49 Public Health England, Sugar Reduction – the evidence for action, October 2015, p17

50 Public Health England, Sugar Reduction – the evidence for action, October 2015, p25

51 Public Health England, Sugar Reduction – the evidence for action, October 2015, p19

52 Public Health England, Sugar Reduction – the evidence for action, October 2015, pp 20-21

53 Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Committees of Advertising Practice, (COS0007), p3

54 Q34, Q208

55 Q206

56 Q206

57 Q252

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

Prepared 27 November 2015