Children's online junk food ads banned by watchdog

Committee of Advertising Practice brings print and web in line with TV rules, but campaigners say change is not enough

Junk food
(Image credit: Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

Adverts promoting food or drinks high in sugar, fat or salt will be banned on children's non-broadcast media under new rules brought in by the UK's advertising regulator.

Following a public consultation, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) said ads promoting such products can not appear in children's media or other media where children make up more than 25 per cent of the audience.

It believes the new rules will lead to "a significant reduction" in the number of "junk food" ads seen by children on platforms such as YouTube and children's games websites.

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Chairman James Best said: "Childhood obesity is a serious and complex issue and one that we're determined to play our part in tackling."

The decision brings standards into line with what is already required for television, says Sky News.

CAP's rules, which come into effect on 1 July 2017, are an attempt to help tackle obesity when children are spending more time online than ever before, says the BBC.

But health organisations say the move doesn't go far enough, with The Guardian reporting that while "cartoon characters and celebrities will be banned from promotional material" for junk foods they will remain on packaging, "meaning they will still be seen on the boxes of sugar-laden breakfast cereals".

The government's childhood obesity strategy was described as "watered down" and "feeble" this summer for not including measures banning the advertising of junk food to children and campaign groups still want the government to take a stronger stance.

Malcolm Clark, the co-ordinator of the Children's Food Campaign, said: "CAP has failed to learn the lessons from industry's exploitation of loopholes in TV advertising regulations.

"Just as many of the TV programmes most watched by children aren't covered by the rules, so it looks like many of the most popular social media sites won't be either; neither will billboards near schools, or product packaging itself."

Action on Sugar agreed, saying it wanted to see bans go further as they "currently do not manage exposure to these adverts during popular family programmes such as The X Factor or Britain's Got Talent".

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CAP itself has admitted the health impact of the ban will be modest. "Available evidence shows the effect of advertising on children's food preferences to be relatively small," it said.

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