A public consultation has been launched today on introducing new non-broadcast rules on how food and soft drink products are advertised to children.
The body responsible for writing the UK Advertising Code, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), has launched the consultation in response to "wider societal concerns around childhood obesity".
Introducing non-broadcast rules would not affect television advertising, but would apply to advertising online, in a move the CAP hopes would "ensure the advertising rules reflect changing media habits amongst young people".
According to research from Ofcom in 2015, 96 per cent of 12- to 15-year-olds spend more time online than watching TV.
The main proposals are to introduce a new rule to the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Direct and Promotional Marketing to limit where advertising for food and soft drink product high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) can be placed in all non-broadcast media; to explore whether advertising targeted at children under 12 or 16 should be prohibited, and to ensure prohibitions are applied to high-sugar and fat foods alone, so that healthier foods can still be marketed creatively to children.
The consultation closes at 5pm on 22 July 2016.
The proposals come after the surprise announcement of a sugar tax in last month's Budget, which was also heavily connected with the issue of childhood obesity.
"Too many children in the UK are growing up overweight or even obese, potentially damaging their health in later life and imposing a high cost on society," James Best, chairman of the CAP said.
"Advertising is just one small factor in a very complex equation but we believe we can play a positive part in addressing an urgent societal challenge. In proposing new rules, our aim is to strike the right balance between protecting children and enabling businesses to continue advertising their products responsibly.”
A spokesperson for the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) spoke in support of the policy proposals.
"Britain’s food and drink brands have come together to support the further tightening of advertising codes based on current nutrient profiles, an example of voluntary industry action moving faster and further than regulation can," the FDF spokesperson said.
"We support a change to the current code which would ensure that ads for foods and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt are not targeted at under-16s in any medium, including online. After all, we live in a digital age."
However, not all analysts were convinced by the consultation.
"Advertising has little if any effect on children's diets. It may not be a popular view but it is a simple truth that children like sweets, chocolate and ice cream," Chris Snowdon, director of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs.
"Companies have every right to advertise their products so long as their adverts are truthful, honest and decent."