UK government confirms pre-watershed junk food ad ban

obese child

New restrictions on the advertising of products containing high levels of fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) have been announced by the UK government this morning (24 June).

Under the proposals, products considered to be HFSS will not be able to be advertised on television before the 9pm watershed. There will also be a ban on paid for online advertising of HFSS products. Brands that manufacture HFSS products will still be able to advertise online and on television, as long as there are no identifiable HFSS products within the adverts themselves. The restrictions on paid-for advertising will mean that brands can continue to advertise within ‘owned media’ spaces online; such as their own blog, website, app or social media page.

There are several other exemptions to the ban, including:

  • Small businesses with fewer than 250 employees will not be subject to the ban
  • Trade and business to business advertising will still be permitted
  • Audio only advertising (radio/podcasts) will still be permitted.

The regulations, which are set to be enforced by the UK communications regulator Ofcom, are due to come into force by the end of next year.

They form part of the Westminster government’s overall obesity strategy, which also includes proposals to limit the placement of HFSS products in stores and introduce tighter restrictions on promotions.

In Scotland, legislation around health is devolved to Holyrood. However the Scottish government has put its plans on restricting in-store promotions of HFSS foods on hold because of the pandemic. The postponed Restricting Food Promotions Bill would also likely have placed restrictions on where products could be positioned within a store.

When the delay was announced, Minister for Public Health Joe FitzPatrick said the pause would give the Scottish Government “an opportunity to take stock, take into account the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown, including on people’s diet and healthy weight”.

Commenting on the ad ban, ACS Chief Executive James Lowman said: “We’re pleased that small businesses have been made exempt from these regulations. With social media, web sites and local advertising an increasingly important part of convenience stores’ marketing activity, we will now be making sure that there is absolute clarity on the application of these rules so that retailers who do have to comply don’t inadvertently breach these regulations.”

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) accused the government of pursuing “headline chasing policies” that would undermine its existing plans around reformulation programmes to calories, sugars, salt and portion sizes.

The FDF’s Chief Scientific Office Kate Halliwell said: “The proposals would make it difficult to advertise many products that have been carefully reformulated or created in smaller portions in-line with the Government’s own targets; for example, Cadbury would not be able to advertise their 30% reduced sugar Dairy Milk.”

Halliwell said the proposals signalled a lack of joined-up policy and concluded: “While we are disappointed that Government is pressing ahead with its plans for the bans, we will continue to work with Government constructively to ensure the policies are practical.”

The full details of the regulations are available on the UK government website.

STG July 2021