Campaigners are arguing that the proposed crackdown on junk food advertising to children in the UK does not cover programmes most frequently watched by children.
 
Analysis by consumer group Which? today (21 December) found that restrictions would not be effective and that the TV programmes most popular with children would still be accessible during ad breaks.

Ofcom called for a total ban on junk food advertising during children's programming on 17 November, and ads for unhealthy foods will be banned during TV shows targeted at under 16 year olds from the end of March this year. Dedicated children's channels have been allowed a transitional period until 31 December 2008.

With a week left before Ofcom's first consultation period ends, on 28 December, Which? suggested that the method the regulator used to define which programmes appeal to children was "fundamentally flawed".

Ofcom defines a programme of particular interest to children as one that attracts an audience Viewing Index of 120 or more for this age group.

Which? said that many more children aged four to 16 are watching TV during the evening rather than during specific children's programmes.

In a snapshot of TV viewing figures for ITV1 over two weeks in October, research showed that, as an example, Spongebob Squarepants attracted around 170,000 and would be covered by the ban, whereas Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Take-Away had over 1m children watching, but would not be covered.

Which? said that programmes attracting the highest viewing figures for 4 to 15 year olds on ITV1 included Coronation Street, Emmerdale, The X Factor Results and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

Which? chief policy adviser Sue Davies said: "While Ofcom has recognised that its objective should be to protect children under 16, its proposed approach is completely flawed. Producers of foods high in fat, sugar and salt will still be free to advertise their products during the programmes most children are watching.

"Which? believes that a 9pm watershed is the only way to ensure that the restrictions are meaningful. If Ofcom cannot re-think its approach in the face of industry pressure, the Government needs to step in and legislate."

Ofcom has argued that while a 9pm watershed ban would remove a large number of HFSS (products that are high in fat, salt and sugar) advertisements from television, when compared to other potential restrictions much of its effect would fall on programmes of primary appeal to adults rather than children.

The regulator said that audience data for 2005 showed that, on average, under 16 year olds watching programmes on ITV1, Channel 4 or five between 6pm and the 9pm watershed are outnumbered nine-to-one by viewers over the age of 16.

Ofcom said that a 9pm watershed ban would also significantly reduce broadcaster revenues "to an extent inconsistent with a proportionate approach".