Ofcom today (17 November) called for a total ban on junk food advertising during children’s programming, broadcast at any time of the day or night. This proposal is designed to significantly reduce the exposure of uner-16s to advertising of food and drink products that are high in fat, sugar or salt (HFSS).

This, the UK advertising regulator said, must be achieved through targeted and proportionate measures and balanced against the duty to provide high-quality relevant programming. Accordingly, advertising restrictions will target HFSS products as defined by the nutritional profiling scheme used by the Food Standards Agency. 

Ofcom said that the ban should be imposed on all children’s programming, channels dedicated to children and youth oriented and adult programmes which attract a higher than average proportion of viewers under the age of 16.

Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said: “Based on the evidence and analysis we believe the case for intervention is clear. We will introduce significant but proportionate measures to protect children under 16. We will look to advertisers and broadcasters to follow both the spirit as well as the letter of the rules we are putting in place.”

Because Ofcom has decided to propose broader regulations designed to protect the under-16s, as opposed to its original remit to shield the under-9s, there will be a brief period of consultation. This will close before Christmas and a final decision will be announced in January.

In addition to the general rules to protect under-16s, Ofcom has also proposed extra regulations to protect primary school children, namely a ban on the use of celebrities and characters licensed from third parties, promotional claims (such as free gifts) and health or nutritional claims.

Makers of children’s television programming have criticised the plan, suggesting that the move will deprive them of much-needed funding. Ofcom itself has estimated that the restrictions will cost children’s broadcasters up to GBP39m (US$73.87m) per year, falling to around GBP23m as broadcasters mitigate revenue loss over time. The commercial public service broadcasters could lose up to 0.7% of their total revenues while children’s and youth-oriented cable and satellite channels could lose up to 8.8% of their total revenues, a figure that rises to 15% of total revenues for dedicated children’s channels, Ofcom said.