Junk food ad ban comes into force in UK

By Jess Halliday

Food Navigator

04/02/2007

 

Stage one of controversial new restrictions on advertising of foods to children came into force in the UK yesterday after much heated debate; the FSA will review the impact of its nutrient profiling model in 12 months.

UK regulators and the food and advertising industries have hotly debated the issue of how much TV advertising is to blame for the current obesity crisis and whether ad restrictions are an appropriate way to curb it. Critics claim it is far too stringent, and that food advertising is only one of many measures to address the obesity rates in the UK.

Presently 80 per cent of spending of food advertising within children's airtime is for foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) - the term the FSA prefers to 'junk food'; and around a third of two to 15-year-olds in the UK are overweight or obese.

As agreed in October 2005, the FSA will review the impact of the measure in 12 months' time. A spokesperson told FoodNavigator.com that the review will investigate how the nutrient profiling model, under which foods that may be advertised are determined, works in practice.

"The review will consider changes in foods advertised to children and the views of all interested parties," she said.

But in the meantime, as of yesterday, advertisements for HFSS foods will not be permitted in or around programmes made for children (including pre-school children), or in or around programmes that are likely to be of particular appeal to children aged four to nine.

The regulation is being introduced in several stages.

From 1 January 2008, HFSS advertisements will not be permitted in or around programmes made for children (including pre-school children), or in or around programmes that are likely to be of particular appeal to children aged four to 15.

Children's channels will be allowed a graduated phase-in period, with full implementation required by the end of December 2008.

The move was originally conceived by advertising regulator Ofcom to restrict advertising around programmes of specific interest to the under-9s, and the extended to young people up to the age of 16 years has been a particular bone of contention.

Melanie Leech, director general of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) called the extension "over the top" and said Ofcom had "moved the goalposts". She said last November that the restrictions were likely to intrude into the evening schedule and be a curb on adult viewing.

Foods that can be advertised in and around children's programmes are determined by a nutrient profiling model that uses a scoring system to balance beneficial nutrients like protein, fibre, fruit, vegetables and nuts, against components children should eat less off - namely energy, saturated fats, salt and sugar.

"During development, the model was tested against 300 foods to ensure the results are consistent with the views of nutrition professionals, and with existing advise on healthy eating," said the FSA.

However nutrient profiling method has also been criticized as 'unscientific', despite having the backing of the FSA's Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition.

The agency has published a rebuttal to some of main points of criticism, including that the model uses a 100g measure rather than actual portion size; some foods normally seen as healthy - like honey, raisons, marmite and cheese - are "demonised"; and that 80 per cent of cereals adverts will be banned, yet only one in five children eats breakfast.

The restrictions are expected to have a noticeable impact on food companies.

"To some extent, the food and drink industry has already demonstrated its ability to self-regulate, with some choosing to withdraw from targeting advertising to younger children. However, the Ofcom restrictions will have a much greater impact on the market, quite possibly affecting the sales of many popular products," said Owen Warnock, food law specialist at Eversheds law firm, in January.

While Ofcom has said that nutrient profiling will be a spur to companies to reformulate their products using healthier recipes, Leech does not agree.

"This is absolutely not the case," she said recently. "Many manufacturers will have no incentive to innovate because they will not be able to leap the profiling hurdle."

Ofcom's co-regulatory partners, the Broadcast Committee on Advertising Practice (BCAP) and the Advertising Standards Authority, are responsible for implementing the new scheduling and content rules and securing compliance respectively. The new rules will form part of the BCAP Television Advertising Standards Code.