*UPDATED with the results of the consultations:* The British media regulator OFCOM ruling bans junk food advertising during programmes targeted at under-16s. However, health advocates feel these restrictions are not enough. The debate is closely linked with European revision of the Television Without Frontiers Directive.
After extensive research and public consultation, Ofcom, have put forward restrictions which are intended to limit children’s exposure to television advertising of food and drink products which are high in fat, salt and sugar.
However, campaigners are “disappointed” Ofcom has not banned all junk food ads before the 9pm watershed.
According to the British Medical Association (BMA), the restrictions fall short of a comprehensive ban, despite the evidence that TV advertising has an effect on children’s eating habits. Furthermore, the British Heart Foundation believe that “this limited proposal will be further weakened by lucrative loopholes open to exploitation.”
The restrictions will apply during children’s programmes and on children’s channels. However, according to Sustain, two thirds (71%) of the TV an average child watches is outside traditional children’s TV hours. The Food Standards Agency (FSA), have sent a letter to Ofcom welcoming the restrictions, but call for further restriction up to the 9pm watershed. In addition, Diabetes UK, the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK and others, call for a 9pm watershed for junk food advertising to be adopted by the British Government.
The debate is part of a larger European picture, with the recent (December 2005) revision of the Commission’s "Television without Frontiers" Directive.
EPHA advocates for better regulation of advertising, known as "audiovisual commercial communications".
EPHA calls for restrictions on the commercial communications to children of foods that contribute to an unhealthy diet.
In addition, EPHA urges a 6am - 9pm watershed on audiovisual commercial communication of unhealthy foods and drinks, which would help cover the times when children are most likely to be watching television.
This follows a landmark evidence-based report published in 2003 showing a clear link between advertising and rising rates of obesity prevalence among children.
On 24 September 2003, the UK’s Food Standards Agency published the first hard evidence blaming television advertising for the excessive consumption of junk food that is causing an increase of obesity among young people: "Does Food Promotion Influence Children? A Systematic Review of the Evidence."
The research was lead by Professor Gerard Hastings, Director of Centre for Social Marketing of the Strathclyde university.
This report establishes beyond reasonable doubt that advertising influences what children eat as well as the brands they prefer.
The agency said it may consider recommending health warnings on packets of soft drinks and snacks, or restrictions on the advertising of these products as well as of fast-food chains such as McDonald’s.