Changing the conversation about health

Ban junk food ads before 9pm to help stop rise in childhood obesity, say campaigners

Television commercials that promote food laden with sugar, fat and salt should be banned until after 9pm to curb rising obesity rates in young people, say experts at the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF).

Childhood obesity rates have continued to rise in the UK, with 34 percent of children leaving primary school now deemed overweight. Obesity at a young age raises the risk of heart disease, cancer and strokes in adulthood.

The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) is calling on the UK government to introduce a watershed that bans commercials for products high in fat, sugar and salt before 9pm

Campaigners at the WCRF criticised a decision by the UK government to continue to allow such adverts to air before 9pm, after a review by ministers in 2019 found that broadcasting such content after 9pm was ‘ineffective’ in changing buying habits.

Previous research has linked television commercials with children’s eating habits. Results of a Cancer Research UK study in 2018 found that every additional hour children spent watching television saw them 21 per cent more likely to buy the food seen in commercials.

At present, the only Ofcom requirement for advertising unhealthy food is that it doesn’t feature in breaks around programmes that are directly made for children.

Government research last year found that 49 per cent of adverts between 6pm and 9pm in the month of May 2018 promoted unhealthy food

The WCRF said government research had shown that almost half of all commercials shown between the hours of 6pm and 9pm in a sample month of May 2018 were advertising food products that were high in fat, salt and sugar.

Campaigners said dismissing such evidence was failing children’s ‘basic human rights’.

Head of policy at WCRF, Kate Oldridge-Turner, said: “Our report highlights the vital role that governments play in ensuring that junk food not be actively promoted to children. 

“We are calling for the new UK government to take a fresh approach at tackling childhood obesity rates.

“For example, by introducing tighter restrictions on junk food marketing aimed at children that prevent food companies finding loopholes in the current legislation; such as a 9pm watershed on junk food adverts across all media.”

A government spokeswoman responded to the criticism, saying: “As part of the government’s strategy to tackle childhood obesity, we have consulted on further advertising restrictions for sugary and fatty products on TV and online. We will respond to that consultation as soon as possible.”