Junk food ads to be banned from TV before 9pm and will face tough online restrictions

24 June 2021, 11:31 | Updated: 24 June 2021, 11:55

Junk food advertising will be banned pre-watershed on TV and face tough online regulations
Junk food advertising will be banned pre-watershed on TV and face tough online regulations. Picture: PA

By Will Taylor

Junk food adverts are to be forced behind the 9pm TV watershed and given tougher online restrictions.

The Government has not imposed a total ban, as proposed last year, with brand advertising still allowed online and on TV.

But it has clamped down as part of Boris Johnson's fight against obesity.

Ministers say that as children spend more time online they need protecting from "unhealthy" advertising.

Research shows one in three children leaving primary school are overweight or obese and two third of adults in England are in either category.

The new measures will see a ban on fast food and sweets giants promoting products high in fat, sugar and salt online, except on a brand's own website and social media.

Businesses with fewer than 250 employees will have exemptions and online audio will also remain permitted, so podcast and internet radio slots will still be allowed.

Pre-watershed TV adverts will be permitted provided they don't show the banned foods.

Exemptions for the healthiest foods in each category, like honey, olive oil and avocados are also part of the new regulations.

Public health minister Jo Churchill said: "We are committed to improving the health of our children and tackling obesity.

"The content youngsters see can have an impact on the choices they make and habits they form.

"With children spending more time online it is vital we act to protect them from unhealthy advertising.

"These measures form another key part of our strategy to get the nation fitter and healthier by giving them the chance to make more informed decisions when it comes to food. We need to take urgent action to level up health inequalities.

"This action on advertising will help to wipe billions off the national calorie count and give our children a fair chance of a healthy lifestyle."

The Government estimates children under 16 were exposed to 15 billion online junk food adverts in 2019, compared to 700 million two years prior.

Read more: Industry backlash at plan to ban online junk food ads

Read more: Boris Johnson pumps iron at gym as part of UK fitness drive

Boris Johnson wants to tackle obesity
Boris Johnson wants to tackle obesity. Picture: Vudi Xhymshiti/Zuma Press/PA Images

Caroline Cerny, from the Obesity Health Alliance, said: "Going ahead with landmark policies to restrict unhealthy food advertising shows that the Government is serious about putting our nation's health first.

"Tough new restrictions will stem the flood of adverts on TV and online that entice us towards sugary and high fat foods, making space to advertise healthier foods."

Barbara Crowther, Sustain's children's food campaign co-ordinator, welcomed the news but said: "We remain concerned that the proposals will still allow massive multinational junk food companies and delivery platforms to run big brand campaigns. In short, it's a very positive step in the right direction, but the journey towards a comprehensive healthier food advertising world is far from over."

The Advertising Association said it was "dismayed" and the Food and Drink Federation's chief scientific officer Kate Halliwell dismissed the new regulations as "headline-chasing policies".

Sue Eustace, public affairs director at the Advertising Association, said: "This means many food and drink companies won't be able to advertise new product innovations and reformulations and larger food-on-the-go, pub and restaurant chains may not be able to tell their customers about their menus."