Thursday 7 March 2019 7:20 am

Advertising industry group hits back in row over junk food ad bans

Restrictions on junk food adverts have a huge economic impact and fail to address the problem of childhood obesity, the advertising industry body has said.

In a report published today the Advertising Association (AA) states children’s exposure to adverts for products with high fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) contents has declined in recent years, yet there has been no measurable impact on obesity levels.

Read more: Mind the ban! How TfL's junk food ad ban may fail to tackle obesity

The average child sees roughly 11.5 seconds of HFSS advertising on TV and online per day, amounting to just 0.01 per cent of each child’s day, according to the report.

The AA argues that the supposed link between advertising and obesity is a “misplaced belief” and ad bans impact “large swathes” of economic activity in the industry.

Instead, the trade body states a decline in physical activity is behind the problem and insists advertising can play a role in promoting a healthy lifestyle.

AA chief executive Stephen Woodford said: “Further restrictions on advertising are not the silver bullet for rising childhood obesity. A continuing focus on the failed strategy of further advertising restriction is founded on the misplaced belief that children are ‘bombarded’ by HFSS advertising.

“To the contrary, the rise in obesity has occurred during a decade of declining exposure to HFSS advertising, and declining calorie intake.”

But health groups have insisted restricting children’s exposure to HFSS adverts is an important step in tackling child obesity.

Malcolm Clark of Cancer Research UK said: “It’s disappointing that the AA is still doing its best ostrich impression about how junk food brands’ advertising campaigns actually operate.

“Just today the Advertising Standards Authority ruled against Cadbury’s for using its Freddo frog mascot to promote chocolate to children.”

The report comes amid a furore surrounding TfL’s decision to ban junk food adverts on the Tube in a bid to address the issue of obesity.

The move has faced ridicule after it emerged online grocery firm Farmdrop fell foul of the rules for an advert containing products such as butter, eggs and jam.

“We have been concerned for some time about the complexity of the TfL HFSS advertising ban – this week’s example of the Farmdrop advertisement falling foul is an example of the risks involved,” Woodford said.

He added: “We are ready to work with government to do our very best as an industry to produce the best solution possible – a solution that is effective and that does not inadvertently damage jobs and the economy by restricting the opportunities for businesses, large and small, to grow.”

The government is also said to be planning a consultation into junk food adverts that could result in the introduction of a 9pm watershed on TV.

Read more: Sky Incredibles advert banned over superfast Wi-Fi claims

Clark said the watershed ban would “support parents and children make healthier choices, reduce pester power and play a role in preventing cancer by better protecting future generations”.

Under current UK advertising rules, HFSS products cannot be advertising in an around TV programmes commissioned for children, or likely to appeal to children. For other media formats, junk food ads may not be shown where under-16s make up more than 25 per cent of the audience.