The UK telecommunications regulator Ofcom has decided it will not support an outright ban on television advertising of food and drinks targeted at children.

Ofcom Chief Executive Stephen Carter said: “Childhood obesity is a public health concern which experts in nutrition, health and education, the Government and the food industry are rightly addressing.” He added: “Television advertising clearly has an influence and equally clearly there is a need for a tightening of specific rules. However, a total ban would be neither proportionate nor, in isolation, effective.”

However, Ofcom said that it found many parents “would like advertisements directed at young children to be less attractive, for example by avoiding the use of cartoon characters”, and said they supported the use of targeted scheduling restrictions.

Ofcom reported that its findings showed that 70% of children’s television viewing took place outside ‘children’s airtime’, i.e. after-school on weekdays, Saturday mornings and on dedicated children’s channels. It also commented that research undertaken in countries where advertising of food to children has been restricted was limited, and the results contested.

Ofcom also referred to the negative impact the revenue loss would have on the quality of children’s TV if money from advertisers slumped.

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Ofcom’s research was undertaken in response to a request in December 2003 from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Tessa Jowell, that Ofcom look at the rules relevant to food advertising directed at children. To see a full report on Ofcom’s findings, click here.