The UK advertising industry has reacted with fury after the government confirmed it will push ahead with a ban on junk food adverts.
Adverts for foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) will be banned on TV before 9pm while tighter restrictions will be placed on online promotions under new rules set to come into force at the end of next year.
The measures form part of the government’s plans to tackle childhood obesity, but advertisers warned the rules would have little impact on health and would disproportionately impact businesses.
Sue Eustace, public affairs director at the Advertising Association, said the trade body was “dismayed” that ministers were moving ahead with the ban.
“This means many food & 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,” she said.
“Content providers – online publishers and broadcasters – will lose vital advertising revenue to fund jobs in editorial and programme-making.
“We all want to see a healthier, more active population, but the government’s own analysis shows these measures won’t work. Levelling up society will not be achieved by punishing some of the UK’s most successful industries for minimal effect on obesity levels.”
Under the new rules, TV ads for unhealthy foods will be banned before 9pm while paid-for advertising will no longer be allowed online.
However, brands will still be able to promote their products on their own websites and social media accounts.
Jon Mew, chief executive of the Internet Advertising Bureau, said: “I am staggered that, in the face of so much evidence showing that it will have next to no impact on childhood obesity rates, the government continues to pursue headline-grabbing, hollow actions with today’s confirmation of an HFSS online advertising ban.
“The government is pressing ahead with a bad policy that creates an unequal media landscape and, in reality, will do little to improve the critical issue of childhood obesity.”
The restrictions will only apply to businesses with more than 250 or more employees. There is also an exemption for the healthiest foods that fall under the HFSS category, such as honey, olive oil, avocados and marmite.
Richard Lindsay, legal and public affairs director at the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, said: The bans will grab headlines and suggest that government is doing ‘something’, but what it is doing is misguided and will serve only to damage businesses, not protect children’s health.”
The government had previously proposed a total ban on junk food advertising, but this was scaled back following a consultation.
It follows a crackdown on junk food ads in 2019 by Transport for London, which banned promotions for HFSS products on its network.