Fast food brands face calls for watershed ad ban

Food and snack makers should be banned from advertising food high in fat, sugar and salt before the 9pm watershed to curb the millions of children exposed to unhealthy products, health campaigners have warned.

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Health campaign groups are stepping up efforts to prevent children watching junk food ads on TV.

Brands are funneling more money into marketing unhealthy products to kids using family TV shows such as the Simpsons and Hollyoaks following a junk food ad ban around children’s’ shows, according to a study of over 750 adverts.

The report, commissioned by the Children’s Food Campaign and the British Heart Foundation (BHF), found 22 per cent of adverts shown during prime time were for food. Of those, the most frequently viewed ads for what researchers deemed “unhealthy” products came from supermarkets such as Aldi and Morrisons, followed by fast food restaurants Domino’s and KFC.

More than one in 10 (13 per cent) of the food ads were for fast food chains and 12 per cent were for chocolate and sweet companies, according to the research. It also found nearly a third of food adverts shown between 8pm and 9pm used themes of “fun” rather than more adult concerns of price and convenience. Additionally, over half (55 per cent) of the TV spots featured shots of children promoting food.

The report also highlighted that brands are using digital marketing more to engage younger viewers. Around a third of ads studied ended with a call to action promoting a website or Twitter hashtag with researchers highlighting 36 per cent of 8 to 15 year olds use smartphones or laptops “most times” when watching TV.  

The findings are to support a marketing drive to front “Action on Junk Food Marketing”, a campaign led by the Children’s Food Campaign and the BHF, to pressure the Government and broadcasting regulator Ofcom to ban advertising of unhealthy products before the watershed.

Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the BHF, says: “Parents don’t expect their children to be bombarded with ads for unhealthy food during primetime TV, but that’s exactly what happens.

“Even when the show is over, junk food marketers could be reaching out to young people online. A lack of regulation means companies are free to lure kids into playing games and entering competitions – all with a view to pushing their product.”

The advertising industry dismissed calls for the ban adding it will not “make people thin”. Health campaigners would “achieve far more” if they focused their efforts on the ”real and proven causes of obesity”, which include education on how to eat more healthily and the benefits of exercise, according to ISBA.

Ian Barber, communications director at industry trade body the Advertising Association, adds: “According to this report, just one in every 20 ads shown during family programmes are for brands which might be considered unhealthy and appealing to children.  

“Those ads cannot appear around children’s programmes themselves and must not encourage poor eating habits or unhealthy lifestyles.  That clearly shows the UK’s evidence-based approach to the advertising rules works, balancing sensible protections with the freedom to advertise, allowing companies to compete – to the benefit of us all – and providing important funding for free-to-air TV.”

The campaign is the latest attempt from health groups to pressure food makers and the Government into doing more to curb obesity rates across the UK. McDonald’s, Burger King and Subway have all launched major TV campaigns over the last two weeks to showcase their health credentials and placate the growing concerns.

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