UK government proposals to ban online adverts promoting food high in fat, sugar and salt have been put out to consultation.

The next stage of the government’s plan to tackle the “obesity time bomb” in children follows the launch in July of a series of initiatives, including a ban on advertising foods high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) on television and online before 9pm when youngsters are most likely to see them.

In July, the UK government stated: “[We will be] banning the advertising of HFSS products being shown on TV and online before 9pm and holding a short consultation as soon as possible on how we introduce a total HFSS advertising restriction online”

The consultation, which will run for six weeks, will “gather views from the public and industry stakeholders to understand the impact and challenges of introducing a total ban on the advertising of these products online, to help people live healthier lives and tackle childhood obesity”.

It could result in the online ban becoming total rather than restricted to specific times.

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By GlobalData

The Government said its research shows children in the UK are exposed to more than 15 billion adverts for HFSS products online every year.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “I am determined to help parents, children and families in the UK make healthier choices about what they eat.

“We know as children spend more time online, parents want to be reassured they are not being exposed to adverts promoting unhealthy foods, which can affect eating habits for life.

“This will be a world-leading measure to tackle the obesity challenges we face now but it will also address a problem that will only become more prominent in the future.”

Health campaigners have welcomed the move.

The British Heart Foundation said the proposed ban on online advertisements for this type of food would be a “big step forward” towards creating a healthier environment. 

And Professor Graham MacGregor, chair of Action on Sugar, said: “We very much welcome this consultation on whether only healthy food and drink should be advertised online as it gives the opportunity for ministers to hear from the many parents who are frustrated with their children being bombarded with advertising for unhealthy foods. 
“As the message from the government has been to ‘stay home’ for much of the year in the fight against Covid-19, this will have no doubt vastly increased children’s exposure to such irresponsible marketing, which casts unhealthy products in the spotlight. 
“It’s therefore vital that a total ban across all online platforms is introduced which would ensure that all loopholes, including paid-for promotions whereby brands are using marketing techniques to push junk food ads, would be firmly closed and help turn the tide on obesity.”

Industry body The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said the move “could not come at a worse time for food and drink manufacturers”. 

Kate Halliwell, the FDF’s head of UK diet and health policy, said: “It beggars belief that government would launch such an important and technically involved consultation at this time and with just six weeks to respond. 

“The length of the consultation potentially hampers industry’s ability to respond effectively at a time when businesses are facing enormous pressure.”

She added: “The industry is preparing for its busiest time of the year and working flat out to keep the nation fed through lockdown, all while facing down the very real threat of a no-deal Brexit.”