UK plans ban on junk food online adverts in anti-obesity drive

Aditi Khanna
·3-min read

London, Nov 11 (PTI) The UK government has launched a consultation process on proposals to ban online adverts for food that are high in fat, sugar and salt to tackle the obesity crisis.

The joint Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) initiative is aimed at protecting children from developing long-term unhealthy eating habits.

The new consultation, which will run for six weeks starting this week, will gather views from the public and industry stakeholders to understand the impact and challenges of introducing a total ban on the advertising of these products online, to help people live healthier lives and tackle childhood obesity.

“We know as children spend more time online, parents want to be reassured they are not being exposed to adverts promoting unhealthy foods, which can affect eating habits for life,” said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

“This will be a world-leading measure to tackle the obesity challenges we face now but it will also address a problem that will only become more prominent in the future,” he said.

The government referenced research which shows that children are exposed to over 15 billion adverts for products high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) online every year.

According to experts, exposure to HFSS advertising can affect what children eat and when they eat, both in the short term by increasing the amount of food children eat immediately after being exposed to an advert, and by shaping longer-term food preferences from a young age.

“We have already committed to restricting HFSS adverts on television before 9 PM. But we also need to go further and address how children can be influenced online, where they are spending more and more of their time,” said UK Public Health Minister Jo Churchill.

“This is part of a package of measures to help families. We want to support people of all ages to make healthier choices,” she said.

According to the two government departments working on this, further advertising restrictions are widely supported by the public, with polling from 2019 showing that 72 per cent of public support a 9 PM watershed on junk food adverts during popular family TV shows and that 70 per cent support a 9 PM watershed online.

This week’s announcement is part of a series of measures in the UK government’s strategy to tackle obesity, which is one of the biggest health crises of the world.

According to official statistics, almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of adults in England are overweight or living with obesity – and one in three children leave primary school overweight or obese, with obesity-related illnesses costing the National Health Service (NHS) 6 billion pounds a year.

The government said that the urgency of tackling obesity has been brought to the fore by evidence of the link to an increased risk from COVID-19.

Living with excess weight puts people at greater risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19, with risk growing substantially as body mass index (BMI) increases.

Nearly 8 per cent of critically ill patients with COVID-19 in intensive care units have been morbidly obese, compared with 2.9 per cent of the general population. PTI AK CPS