Who: UK Department of Health
Where: United Kingdom
When: 18 March 2018
Law stated as at: 29 March 2019
Last summer, the UK government published its Childhood Obesity Plan – Chapter 2. In this, the government promised to consult on a number of initiatives to restrict the promotion and advertising of high fat salt and sugar (HFSS) foods. The most high-profile of which was a proposal to introduce a watershed ban for HFSS adverts. The idea was to strengthen the current regime set by the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice, which prohibits placing a HFSS food adverts in media where the audience is 25% or more children. This would close the perceived loophole that allowed broadcast of HFSS adverts around family viewing, which is generally watched by millions of children despite the audience being under the 25% threshold.
The consultation proposes various options, including the 9pm broadcast watershed ban, along with some slightly more surprising options:
- a ban on all online advertising of HFSS between 5:30am to 9pm, potentially with an exemption where the advertiser can prove to an exceptionally high evidential standard that children will not be exposed to the advertising;
- lowering the percentage of the audience which may be children for the purposes of placing HFSS adverts. The government is proposing banning HFSS adverts where the audience is 10% or more children (rather than the existing 25%);
- creating a hybrid of options (a) and (b) which would impose a watershed ban on online video (which would include both video on demand services and online platforms such as YouTube) but a targeting ban on all other types of online advertising using the 10% audience metric; and
- introducing a “ladder” into the HFSS rating to incentivise reformulation by allowing greater advertising privileges to products which lower the number of points on the HFSS rating scale.
Why this matters
Some of the proposals would restrict advertising much more widely than might have been anticipated based on the comments in the Childhood Obesity Plan – Chapter 2. Imposing broadcast-like restrictions of a watershed ban online is unprecedented and may require platform owners to develop new technologies to enable advertising to be controlled in this way. This will have the effect of bringing online platforms into the debate around HFSS advertising.
On a more positive note, the ladder proposal does seem to recognise the food and beverage industries concern about the tensions between public health England is reformulation targets and the advertising restrictions. Some have complained that they are being forced to reformulate products to lower sugar and calories but even the reformulated products may not be advertised due to proposed advertising restrictions. The ladder proposal goes some way to addressing these concerns, although the restrictions on low and reduced sugar claims will continue to be an issue.
For more, see our video insight.