Industry bodies representing the UK’s food and advertising industries have condemned the sweeping restrictions proposed by Ofcom to prevent the advertising of high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) foods to under-16s.

On Friday (17 November) the UK advertising watchdog proposed a total ban of adverts promoting HFSS foods during programming viewed by a high proportion of children younger than 16 years olds, at any time of the day. Ofcom also proposed banning third party characters (cartoons) and celebrities from endorsing HFSS products, promotional claims (such as free gifts) and health or nutritional claims in an effort to provide additional protection for primary school children.

These proposals are much further-reaching than anticipated, and Ofcom has stepped outside its original remit to protect the under-9s. As a result, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has criticised Ofcom for “moving the goal posts” after a long period of consultation.

FDF director general Melanie Leech said: “This issue has always been about advertising to young children and industry responded on that basis with a package of strong measures designed to meet the government’s objective.

Because Ofcom extended the proposals to cover the over-16s the advertising watchdog has allowed for a short period of further consultation, which will close before Christmas.

“We will of course be responding to the latest consultation but have strong concerns that the proposed regulations are over the top. Whilst we need to look at the detail, it seems that they will intrude into the evening schedule and be an unnecessary curb on adult viewing,” Leech said.

In order to specifically target HFSS foods, Ofcom said the regulations would be based on the nutritional profiling system used by the Food Standards Agency. However, the FDF found fault with this proposal also, suggesting that the move would hinder innovation in the food industry.

“The regulations will be based on a nutrient profiling model that is scientifically flawed. Ofcom says the model will provide an incentive for manufacturers to reformulate products; this is absolutely not the case. Many manufacturers will have no incentive to innovate because they will not be able to leap the profiling hurdle,” Leech concluded.

Advertisers have also responded negatively to the proposals, with Andrew Brown, director-general of the Advertising Association, expressing disappointment that Ofcom strayed beyond its original objective to protect younger children.

“The advertising industry has long accepted that new restrictions on food advertising to younger children are necessary, but only as part of a much wider response to the obesity crisis that promotes healthy lifestyles,” he commented.