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For some time, the government has been under pressure to review the current rules governing the advertising of food high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS).
Now the HFSS review has been given renewed impetus thanks to a campaign spearheaded by Jamie Oliver (of course). He’s supporting a ban on the advertising of such products before the 9pm watershed, as well as stricter measures covering non-broadcast media.
Oliver has called for “proper controls on what ads kids see online, in the street and on public transport”. MPs called for a ban earlier this year on all HFSS TV advertising before the 9pm watershed – a move that Labour pledged to make before last year’s general election.
The Committee of Advertising Practice, which writes the UK’s codes of practice for advertising, has been reviewing the effectiveness of current regulation. The first piece of major regulation came into force in 2007 – a move that unintentionally sped up the decline of children’s TV on the main ITV and Channel 4 channels.
Last year new rules came in banning advertising for HFSS in non-broadcast media either aimed at children or where they make up at least 25% of the audience. It brought channels including social media, magazines and billboards into line with TV.
CAP said it was “widely acknowledged that factors other than advertising are the main influences on our children’s waistlines, including socio-economic circumstances, parental choices, school policies, sedentary pastimes, levels of understanding about nutrition and the availability of HFSS products”. CAP will evaluate the evidence and publish an analysis later this year.
There is no doubt that HFSS advertising pounds are being invested into family entertainment shows such as The Voice and The X-Factor that are outside the reach of current regulation. Outside of TV, the likes of YouTube, cinema and outdoor (in proximity to schools) also receive more than their fair share of HFSS investment.
It is time for the industry to take the lead ahead of more draconian regulatory measures coming in, starting with an acknowledgment that children’s media habits have changed since the initial 2007 rules came into effect. As a sector, if we can demonstrate that we’re able to prohibit children from being actively targeted then perhaps a wider advertising ban can be avoided.
The industry effectively faces a choice between taking the initiative to ensure the rules are still fit for purpose and waiting to be told what to do next.