Childhood obesity is a serious and complex issue and one that we’re determined to play our part in tackling. These restrictions will significantly reduce the number of ads for high, fat, salt or sugar products seen by children. Our tough new rules are a clear demonstration that the ad industry is willing and ready to act on its responsibilities and puts the protection of children at the heart of its work.
Encouraging words from the Chairman of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), James Best
According to CAP they have today announced, following a full public consultation, tough new rules banning the advertising of high fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) food or drink products in children’s media. The rules will apply across all non-broadcast media including in print, cinema and, crucially, online and in social media.
The rules, which will apply in media targeted at under-16s, will come into effect on 1 July 2017.
With the Child Obesity Strategy having no real bite, I was not expecting these “tough new rules” to provide me with any real hope and having reviewed the new advertising rules, I do believe that it is once again a missed opportunity, albeit with some progress.
So, what are these new rules and how much of a difference will they make?
Committee of Advertising Practice Tough New Rules
· Ads that directly or indirectly promote a HFSS product cannot appear in children’s media
· Ads for HFSS products will not be allowed to use promotions, licensed characters and celebrities popular with children; advertisers may now use those techniques to better promote healthier options
These sound great until you consider what is not covered by these rules. The packaging of HFSS products will not be affected. They will continue to be covered in the latest cartoon and film characters that our children are often drawn towards. When it is generally agreed that TV advertising has a relatively low impact on HFSS consumption, these rules seem like yet more watered down measures.
· Ads for HFSS products cannot appear in other media where children make up over 25% of the audience
With children reportedly spending more time (around 15 hours per week) online than watching TV, moves to reduce their online exposure to promotions for HFSS products is a welcomed measure, but I do have my concerns. Up to 25 in every 100 children could still be exposed to advertising and across the UK this equates to more than 3 million children.
A concern shared by the Obesity Health Alliance, who view it as a loophole that could (and most likely will) be exploited. Also, has anyone stopped to consider that obesity, inactivity, screen time and poverty are closely linked? It is quite possible that children in poorer households will watch more TV and spend more time online than anyone else with their households spending greater proportions of their income on food. With obesity rates soaring, we need to do more to ensure that all children are protected.
With one third of children overweight or obese by their eleventh birthday, we need to protect them from relentless junk food marketing in all walks of life.”
-Obesity Health Alliance.
The Children’s Food Campaign go further and while they believe that the “The Committee of Advertising Practice has finally listened to the voices of parents and health professionals, after years of resisting calls for stronger measures to reduce children’s exposure to junk food marketing online” they also share concerns that “CAP has failed to learn the lessons from industry’s exploitation of loopholes in TV advertising regulations”.
Jenny Rosborough, campaign manager at Action on Sugar, called for restrictions to be extended to programmes such as X Factor, which are hugely popular with children but which are exempt from these restrictions because they fall outside children’s programming.
The response to the new rules from the Committee of Advertising Practice have been received in similar fashion to the Child Obesity Strategy with many believing that “the power still seems to be very much in the hands of manufacturers and advertisers, not parents”.
Ultimately, the new rules are only as good as the body which enforces them. We hope that from July 2017 CAP and the Advertising Standards Authority will ensure companies follow both the letter and the spirit of these new rules, and close any loopholes which arise.
Rather than develop a groundbreaking strategy that puts the wellbeing of all children at its centre, it is my belief that CAP have produced a set of rules that fall short. It’s supporters and the food industry will possibly argue that parents have a greater responsibility, but how many of us feel pressured by children who influence our purchases, based on the marketing directly aimed at them?