The UK government says that new rules banning the advertising of so-called junk food online and on TV before the 9pm watershed from 2023 will help tackle childhood obesity.

New measures announced today (24 June) will ban products such as cakes, chocolate, ice cream breakfast cereals and pizza from being advertised during daylight hours when they are most likely to be seen by children.

But some foods high in fat or sugar will be spared from the ban, based on previously-announced restrictions and introduced following a consultation exercise. These include olive oil, honey, avocados, and Unilever’s Marmite spread.

Fast-food companies will be able to advertise as long as no high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) products appear. Small- and medium-sized companies – those with less than 250 employees – will continue to be allowed to advertise ‘junk food’ products. There will also here be no new restrictions for the out-of-home sector, which includes billboards, poster sites, on buses, and in locations such as railway stations and airports.

Online restrictions will be limited to paid-for advertising, meaning brands can continue to advertise within ‘owned media’ spaces online, including on their own websites, apps or social media pages.

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By GlobalData

The UK government suggested these restrictions will help protect children from developing long-term unhealthy eating habits and improve the nation’s health by wiping more than seven billion calories from the national diet every year.

The move has been criticised by UK food industry body The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) which said it is “disappointed” by the move.

Its chief scientific officer, Kate Halliwell, said: “We are disappointed that the government continues to press ahead with headline-chasing policies which will undermine existing government policies, principally the reformulation programmes to reduce calories, sugars and salt and portion sizes.”

However, health campaign groups Action on Sugar and Action on Salt welcomed the move.

Their chairperson Professor Graham MacGregor said: “Parents want their children to see only healthier foods advertised which is why we welcome this positive response from the government’s advertising consultation.

“Whilst this is not a total ban on unhealthy food and drink advertising, the fact that meals high in salt, fat and sugar which are served by large fast food chains will be included in the restrictions is hugely significant.”

MacGregor called on the food and drink industry not to wait until 2023 to adhere to these restrictions and “immediately get behind these new measures and support the nation’s health”.

The Government said 79% of public consultation respondents supported a 9pm watershed on TV while 74% agreed with the introduction of further HFSS advertising restrictions online.

Public health minister Jo Churchill said: “We are committed to improving the health of our children and tackling obesity. The content youngsters see can have an impact on the choices they make and habits they form. With children spending more time online it is vital we act to protect them from unhealthy advertising.

“These measures form another key part of our strategy to get the nation fitter and healthier by giving them the chance to make more informed decisions when it comes to food. We need to take urgent action to level up health inequalities. This action on advertising will help to wipe billions off the national calorie count and give our children a fair chance of a healthy lifestyle.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is an advocate of clamping down on the advertising of unhealthy food, partly blaming his being overweight for the severity of his illness when he contracted Covid-19 last year.