Campaigners win ruling on junk food ads

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Health campaigners have called for tougher restrictions on online adverts for unhealthy food aimed at children, after their complaints against confectionery brands were upheld.

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The Children's Food Campaign says companies are targeting children by deliberately using apps, games and storybooks in junk food marketing

Complaints submitted by the Obesity Health Alliance (OHA) and Children’s Food Campaign (CFC) against Cadbury, Chewits and Squashies were upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

The new rules for non-broadcast advertising, introduced in July 2017 by the Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP), placed restrictions on the advertising of food and drink high in salt, sugar and fat to children online and via other non-broadcast media.

However, OHA and CFC have said they do not believe the rules go far enough, as they only apply when at least 25 per cent of the audience is deemed to be children. 

Complaints were upheld relating to:

  • a joint promotion website between Cadbury and the National Trust for Scotland which provided downloadable content for Cadbury, including a storybook and activity pack featuring Cadbury-branded purple eggs
  • posts on the Chewits’ Facebook page celebrating GCSE results, Roald Dahl Day, International School Libraries Month and going back to school after the holidays
  • the ‘advergame’ app ‘Squashies World’

Barbara Crowther, CFC co-ordinator, said, ‘Companies are not just breaching the rules, but clearly also ignoring the spirit of what those rules are there for, by deliberately targeting kids with apps, games and storybooks.

‘We’re pleased to see the ASA undertaking due diligence and upholding these complaints. However, it took six months for decisions to be reached, by which time the advertising campaigns had long ago concluded.

‘The companies in question weren’t penalised in any way, and children remained largely unprotected from the harmful effects of junk food marketing.’     

Childhood obesity plan update

Last month, the Government  announced consultations on new measures to strengthen its childhood obesity plan.

In the second chapter of the plan, published last month, the Government pledged to consult on measures including the extension of junk food marketing restrictions to before the 9pm watershed on TV and online.

Both the OHA and CFC have called for such measures to be introduced in order to tackle the UK’s childhood obesity crisis.

Ms Crowther added, ‘Government has pledged to consider whether self-regulation is the best approach to tackling junk food marketing in the non-broadcast space, or if legislation is necessary. The evidence points to the latter.

'We welcome this progress, but in the current absence of more effective rules, we encourage parents to be vigilant and report any inappropriate adverts to Children’s Food Campaign, so we can take these forward with the ASA. The more adverts that the ASA investigate, the greater the pressure will be on industry to act responsibly and obey the rules.’

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