A ban on adverts for junk food during television programmes aimed at children under 16 came into force in 2008.
However, children’s TV viewing peaks between eight and nine pm. Currently, advertisers are able to use legal loopholes to promote their products to children both on TV and online during popular early evening entertainment shows.
A survey of more than 2,000 parents of children aged four to 16 by the British Heart Foundation, released today, reveals that seven in ten parents have been pestered by their children to buy junk food they have seen advertised on TV.
Around 30 per cent of children in the UK are overweight or obese.
Research by the broadcasting regulator Ofcom has found that TV advertising can affect children’s food choices, consumption and behaviour and that young children in particular cannot distinguish between advertising and entertainment.
The BHF also says that rules covering online marketing are vague and do not distinguish between healthy and unhealthy foods, making it easier to advertise unhealthy products online.
The current system for online marketing is self-regulatory; the food industry are involved in developing and enforcing the rules.
The charity has launched an online petition calling for:
- a ban on junk food advertising before the 9pm watershed;
- a distinction between healthy and unhealthy foods written into rules covering online marketing;
- tighter regulation for online marketing of junk foods;
- new rules should be written, monitored and enforced by an independent body.
Mike Hobday, director of policy at the British Heart Foundation, said, ‘Regulations for TV and online advertising in the UK are weak. Loopholes in the system mean that every day millions of children are exposed to sophisticated marketing techniques specifically designed to lure them into unhealthy eating habits.
‘This evidence shows that junk food ads are having a detrimental impact on children’s behaviour and are hindering parents’ efforts to get their children to eat healthily.
‘We cannot allow companies to continue exploiting holes in the system at the expense of our children’s health. The Government must act now to help give children a stronger chance at fending off future heart disease.’
To sign the petition visit www.bhf.org.uk/junkfood