UK ban on TV ads of unhealthy foods is positive step but doesn’t go far enough – Statement from The George Institute in response to new UK Government policy

The George Institute for Global Health welcomes the UK Government announcement of a 9pm watershed on TV-based advertisement of high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) food and drink products, in an effort to curb childhood obesity, but urges it to consider a total online advertising ban.

Professor Simone Pettigrew, Program Director of Health Promotion and Behaviour Change, Food Policy at The George Institute said: “This announcement is a positive step in reducing children’s exposure to HFSS advertising and preventing diet-related non-communicable diseases.

“However, the restrictions must go further if we want to make serious improvements to our children’s health.

“As it stands, the legislation will apply to TV and paid-for advertising of HFSS products online, as well as to UK on-demand services, but not to radio or podcasts that are accessed online.

“The exemption for HFSS product paid-for advertising by small and medium enterprises also represents an unwelcome loophole because it means children will continue to be exposed to HFSS product advertising, albeit from lesser-known brands.

“We urge the Government to revisit a total online HFSS advertising restriction to ensure this policy is fully future proofed as children’s media habits increasingly move online.”

The UK Government estimates the 9pm watershed could reduce the number of children with obesity by 20,000 over coming years. Currently, one in three children in England leaves primary school overweight or living with obesity.

The announcement builds on a 2019 government-led consultation, which focused on types of advertising to be restricted, who should be liable for compliance and how to enforce proposed restrictions.