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UK ban on junk food ads not working


By Julian Lee

The Sydney Morning Herald
November 8, 2007

A BRITISH system that is being considered in Australia as a way to staunch the flow of television junk food ads aimed at children has failed, a leading consumer advocacy group says.

Six months after Ofcom, the British media regulator, introduced rules aimed at banning ads for foods that are high in fat, salt or sugar from being shown in children's programs, children are just as likely to be watching junk food ads as before, says Sue Davies, chief policy adviser to British consumer organisation Which?

The rules banned ads for foods high in fat, salt or sugar from being shown during or around programs made for, or with "particular appeal" to, children under the age of 10.

But the interpretation of what is meant by "particular appeal" is based on whether the majority of the audience watching at any given time is children aged under 16.

According to Which? food advertisers can continue to book space around programs watched by children but where adults make up the majority of the audience, such as soap operas and game shows aired in the early-evening timeslot.

"All the most popular programs that are watched by children aren't covered because of the way they are calculating it," Davies says. "So if you are a Nestle or a Kellogg you can still advertise to children on TV where you know you are guaranteed a large number of children will be watching."

Only six of the top 50 programs watched by children aged four to 15 on the leading commercial channel, ITV1, would be captured by the new guidelines, which are being extended to cover 10- to 15-year-olds next year. Junk food manufacturers would be barred from advertising around Bratz, for example, with 128,000 child viewers, but not from Britain's most popular soap, airing at 7.30pm, Coronation Street, which has 704,000 four- to 10-year-olds watching.

Which? is pushing for the British Government to step in and rule that no junk food ads should appear before 9pm.

Under the present rules, Ofcom estimates that the exposure of younger children to junk food ads would be reduced by 51 per cent and the exposure of older children by 41 per cent. Those figures would rise to 89 and 82 per cent respectively if a 9pm watershed were introduced.


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