The advertising industry is taking yet another look at the rules and regulations around how foods that are high in calories, sugars and sodium are advertised on TV and, perhaps more importantly, on non-roadcast media.
The reason? Look around—our kids are fat. But this review isn’t happening here in the U.S.; it's taking place in the U.K.
In July 2017, the Advertising Standards Authority introduced tougher rules on how HFSS (high-fat, -salt and -sugar food and drink products) companies targeted those under the age of 16 online. Those restrictions mirrored guidelines for TV, and meant that HFSS products could not be advertised on video-sharing platforms such as YouTube if the content was directed at children.
The Committee of Advertising Practice said it wants to establish whether TV guidelines that were brought in over a decade ago are still constructive, and that the newer online rules are working.
This sentiment is echoed by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), which said it “welcomes the Committee’s call for evidence around the impact of HFSS food and drink advertising to children. As an industry, we support policy based upon the latest and most compelling evidence."
The Committee of Advertising Practice said that children’s exposure to HFSS ads on TV has been reduced significantly, with exposure to food and soft-drink TV ads 40% lower now than it was in 2010.
Despite this, childhood obesity has continued to rise. In December 2017, University College London found that 25% of children were overweight or obese at age seven, rising to 35% at age 11. And there have been growing calls for tighter regulation of junk food ads, particularly around family shows such as "The X Factor."
So what can we learn? It’s clearly not just about the ads, but if we want to take obesity seriously for all ages, we really need our food companies in the U.S. and around the world to reformulate and produce more nutritious foods with less sugar, sodium and fat.