Food and drink industry welcomes stricter rules on advertising junk food to children

The food and drink industry has said it would welcome plans to introduce more stringent rules around advertising food and drinks high in salt, sugar and fat to children as the ad regulator launches an investigation.

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) is today launching a full public consultation as it considers introducing new rules to govern how brands can target children in non-broadcast media, including online. It comes amid widespread concerns around childhood obesity and the need to ensure the rules reflect changing media habits.

The main proposals include

  • Introducing new rules to limit where advertising for food and soft drink products high in fat, salt or sugar can be placed in all non-broadcast media
  • Exploring whether the rules should prohibit advertising HFSS products to children under 12 or under 16
  • Applying the existing rules prohibiting the use of promotions and licensed characters and celebrities popular with children to HFSS product advertising only, allowing more creative ways for healthier foods to be advertised to children

And in what could be considered a surprise mood, the Food and Drink Federation has said it is in support of some of the changes to the advertising code, including making sure online ads are not targeted at under-16s.

A spokesperson says: “Britain’s food and drink brands have come together to support the further tightening of advertising codes based on current nutrient profiles, an example of voluntary industry action moving faster and further than regulation can.

“We support a change to the current code which would ensure that ads for foods and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt are not targeted at under-16s in any medium, including online. After all, we live in a digital age.”

Food and Drink Federation

The Advertising Association has also welcomed the debate with its communications director Ian Barber saying: “CAP’s work reflects an open, honest and industry-wide debate on advertising and the country’s obesity problem. With Government’s strategy yet to be published, self-regulation is proving fast, effective and responsive both to public concerns and children’s changing media habits.”

Advertising’s impact on obesity

The CAP admits that advertising has only a “modest effect” on children’s food preferences, with external factors such as education, exercise and parents’ behavior player greater roles. However, it says that even a “relatively small positive impact” is worth it given that a third of children are overweight or obese and the cost this brings to society.

CAP chairman James Best says: “Too many children in the UK are growing up overweight or even obese, potentially damaging their health in later life and imposing a high cost on society. Advertising is just one small factor in a very complex equation but we believe we can play a positive part in addressing an urgent societal challenge.

“In proposing new rules, our aim is to strike the right balance between protecting children and enabling businesses to continue advertising their products responsibly.”

The obesity challenge

The consultation is part of wider calls to do something about the growing obesity crisis. The Government has already pledged to introduce a sugar tax on soft drinks with the highest levels of sugar, and is set to launch its obesity strategy later this year.

Read more: Soft drink brands should embrace the sugar tax

Meanwhile broadcasters are understood to be working on a proposal that would see healthier foods feature in TV programmes such as Coronation Street.

Brands themselves are also working to cut calorie, fat and sugar intake. Cadbury, for example, has cut the calories in all its singles bars to under 250 and says its marketing is not aimed at children and always looks to give advice on the right portion size.

Núria Antoja, marketing manager for chocolate countlines in the UK and Ireland at Cadbury owner Mondelez, told Marketing Week: “We have a commitment to have only brands with under 250 calories and we always give advice on the right portion size and the right quantity to eat. We want to encourage consumers when they are looking to have a taste experience to try one of our brands, not to consume more than normal. We are another option consumers have.”

The regulator is calling on parents, schools, public health officials, regulatory bodies and food and drink brands to help with its consultation. The closing date is 5pm on 22 July.



Matt Barwell, CMO, Britvic

We all recognise that childhood obesity and obesity more widely is one of the most critical public health issues we face today. The evidence points to factors such as parental influence, access to exercise and education having a greater impact on children’s food choices than advertising. However, at Britvic we welcome the review as we believe as brand owners we have a duty to protect children and that we need a series of changes to address the issue.

We pride ourselves on the strength of our global marketing code and are committed to high standards when it comes to protecting children. These proposed changes would lead to greater alignment between the CAP codes and our internal benchmark, which we welcome. At Britvic, we never advertise to children under 12 years, do not use licensed characters in our advertising, never associate our brands with online games or gaming (advergames) or engage in any in-game marketing.

Furthermore, we never advertise high sugar products to under 16s. In fact our family and kids’ brands Fruit Shoot and Robinson’s contain no added sugar as we took the bold decision to stop selling and producing the added sugar ranges as part of our 2020 health commitments and in response to changing consumer preferences. In addition 75% of our marketing budget is spent promoting low and no sugar alternatives.

We remain committed to using the power of our brands as a ‘force for good’ and encouraging healthier lifestyles early on to make a real difference in children’s lives. A great example is Fruit Shoot Mini Mudder, a kids’ version of Tough Mudder, which we established last year to inspire kids to get active, get muddy and explore their adventurous sides.”

Obesity is a complex problem, and so there is no silver bullet when it comes to tackling it. It will take creativity, collaboration, effort and time to drive change, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. As brand owners and advertisers we of course have a role to play.



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