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Ofcom proposes ban on kids' junk food ads

Julia Day

The Guardian
Tuesday March 28, 2006


Ofcom is proposing to ban all TV advertising or sponsorship for food and drink aimed at children, one of four new proposals designed to combat childhood obesity.


The media regulator's long-awaited report into advertising junk food to children sets out four alternative proposals, ranging from time and product restrictions to an all-out ban.

All of the options set out by Ofcom have two things in comon: a ban on food and drink advertising or sponsorship to pre-school children (under five years old) and a set of eight rules about the content of food and drink advertising set out by the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice, the body responsible for setting advertising content rules.

Celebrities and licensed characters (such as film or cartoon characters) will be banned in food or drink ads aimed at the under-10s under the new BCAP rules.

Promotional offers, including collectables and giveaways, targeted at under-10s will be banned as will ads that encourage children to buy, or pester parents to buy, products. The BCAP rules state that commercials must not encourage children to eat or drink something just to get a giveaway and must also avoid encouraging poor nutritional habits or unhealthy lifestyles.

Ofcom's first option would be to stop food and drink products that are high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) from advertising during - or sponsoring - programmes for children up to nine years old.

The second proposal would ban all food and drink advertising and sponsorship in programmes specifically made for children of nine and under. Healthy eating campaigns from the government would be allowed.

Option three would outlaw food or drink advertising during programmes for pre-school children but would allow a limited amount of ads - a maximum of 30 seconds an hour - to be broadcast when children are most likely to be watching TV.

These times are 6am to 9am and 3pm to 6pm on weekdays, and 6am to 1pm at weekends.

A limit of 60 seconds an hour during family viewing times - between 6pm and 8pm on weekdays and between 1pm and 8pm at weekends - would also be put in place.

And there would be a limit of 30 seconds an hour throughout the day for children's channels - except pre-school channels, which would carry no food or drink advertising.

Ofcom's last proposal is an open invitation to all interested parties to devise a "workable and effective option" combining some or all of the restrictions set out in the other three options or a completely new proposal.

However, the regulator said it would only consider proposals that command broad support across broadcasters, advertisers, retailers and manufacturers. They must also "demonstrate a realistic prospect of contributing positively and significantly to the social policy aim of altering children's preferences towards - and actual consumption of - HFSS products".

Each proposal also states that the existing rules set out by BCAP will apply to food and drink advertising and sponsorship.

Stephen Carter, the chief executive of Ofcom, said: "Proposals to increase regulation in open and competitive markets should always be subject to rigorous scrutiny.

"With childhood obesity, the case for targeted action has been made; but which action - and how this should be implemented - is the focus for this final stage of consultation." The consultation will close on June 6.

Jeremy Preston, the director of the food advertising unit at the Advertising Association, said: "The one word that the food industry is looking for is proportionality.

"There does have to be a review but it needs to be proportionate. In the past six years, food advertising to children has decreased by 30% whereas obesity levels in children aged two to 10 has risen by 25%."

Ofcom's proposals only apply to broadcast advertising. A separate report covering newspapers, magazines and posters will be published later this year. Advertising on the internet is unrestricted.

ITV responded to the publication of Ofcom's report saying that any solutions needs to be "practical and proportionate".

"We recognise the current concern over the issue of childhood obesity and the importance of promoting healthy diets and lifestyles for children. ITV has been working closely with the industry on the review of advertising codes around children's TV and in the past few years we have seen a clear trend in promotion of healthier lifestyles and healthy eating," said an ITV spokesman.

"ITV is the biggest investor in UK commercial TV production and decisions on regulatory intervention need to be taken in the knowledge that they could lead to less programme investment. We will therefore work with Ofcom on this consultation to ensure any potential actions are both practical and proportionate."
 

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