Concerns about childhood obesity due to the over-consumption of high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) foods have lead the UK Department of Health and Department of Culture, Media and Sport to ask Ofcom to examine the possibility of placing restrictions on television advertising of food and drink products to children.

The Food Standards Agency has also formulated a nutrient profiling model, which could potentially be used to differentiate between types of products so that restrictions on advertising to children could be appropriately targeted. 

Ofcom’s recommendations are based on consultation with consumer organisations, broadcasters, the Broadcast Committee on Advertising Practice and advertisers. In the process of consultation, Ofcom said it has become clear that there is no current consensus on the most appropriate course of action beyond an agreement that some action is necessary.

Yesterday (11 April) Ofcom set out four alternative proposals as to what form this action should take.

Firstly, the office suggested timing restrictions on adverts for HFSS food and drink products that would prevent unhealthy foods and drinks being advertised during shows made for children.

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An alternate proposal submitted by Ofcom was a blanket restriction on the advertising of food and drink products while children’s programmes were being aired.

Ofcom also suggested the implementation of volume based restrictions on all food and drinks products, with no ads being aired during shows for pre-school children and a limit to the amount of food and drink advertising allowed when children are likely to be watching.

Finally, Ofcom suggested that the Government invite proposals for a workable and effective option that commands industry support through a further consultation period that will end on 6 June 2006.

Ofcom chief executive Stephen Carter said: “Proposals to increase regulation in open and competitive markets should always be subject to rigorous scrutiny.

“With childhood obesity, the case for targeted action has been made; but which action – and how this should be implemented – is the focus for this final stage of consultation.”