David Cameron
David Cameron

Speaking at an event at the Demos think tank, the Tory leader said he was concerned that children were being “treated like adults”.

He said: “Children are like sponges, remarkably receptive to the influences. Whether it’s the music videos they see on television, the adverts they hear on the radio, the celebrities they follow avidly, the passer-by talking on their mobile phone, children are tuned in. They’re constantly watching, listening and learning.”

Cameron then rounded on the advertising industry, suggesting that kids are “being sold the idea that the path to happiness lies through excessive consumption”. He warned of new laws outlawing “premature sexualisation” and “excessive commercialisation” unless things improved.

He added: “It’s high time the children’s market and advertisers show much more restraint in the way they operate. We don’t want to resort to regulation. But we will make it clear that if business doesn’t exercise some corporate responsibility, we will not be afraid to impose it.”

Last week, the advertising industry was the subject of a damning report into the problems of drinking among today’s youth. In a 200-page report, the cross-party Health Committee concluded that the current system of controls on alcoholic promotion and advertising is “failing to protect the young people it is intended to protect”, with “quantity rather than the content” the real issue.

This isn’t the first time Cameron has spoken out on the issue of premature sexualisation of children. Four years ago, he clashed with Philip Green, owner of BHS, over the company’s line of padded bras and knickers aimed at under-10s – something Cameron, as a father, denounced as “harmful and creepy”.

More recently, Disney sparked controversy with a range of High School Musical pants for young girls with the words ‘Dive In’ emblazoned across them. Asda, which was selling the range, said it hadn’t meant to cause offence.