The Government has announced a response to its consultation on advertising restrictions for products high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS).
What is the government proposing on HFSS advertising?
A Government consultation response confirms that at the end of 2022, the UK will simultaneously introduce a 9pm watershed for high fat, sugar and salt products (HFSS) on TV and on-demand services, in addition to a restriction of paid-for HFSS advertising online.
This is the second consultation response within six months that restricts the promotion of HFSS products, one at point of sale and one through advertising, and means major shifts are required in how the food industry profiles and markets a large variety of foods.
The new measures will be some of the strictest marketing restrictions in the world and will significantly impact the £600m plus spent by brands on all food advertising online and on TV annually1.
The Government’s economic analysis of the policy estimated £4.4 billion lost advertising revenue for online platforms, £63 million lost revenue for advertising agencies and a £20.3 million reduction in profits for retailers and manufacturers of HFSS products… but evidence suggests this will significantly reduce impulse purchasing, positively impact childhood obesity rates and therefore future health outcomes2.
Why is this happening?
The government aims to halve childhood obesity by 2030, which is no small task. More than 1 in 5 children in Reception is overweight or obese, rising to 1 in 3 by Year 63.
The reason for this is children consume more calories than they need and much of this excess comes from foods and drinks that are high in fat, sugar and salt.
Many studies have linked children viewing adverts to wanting and consuming a food or drink. For example, a survey of 7-11 year olds by Cancer Research & University of Liverpool4 found that each hour children spent watching TV was linked to a 22% increased chance of children asking for the food they'd seen advertised.
Although in recent years, increasing airtime has been given to health campaigns like Change4Life and VegPower5, aanalysis from September 2019 demonstrated that almost half (47.6%) of all food adverts shown over the month on ITV1, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky1 were for HFSS products and this rises to nearly 60% during the 6pm to 9pm slot (when children are most likely to be watching TV)6.
There is also emerging evidence that viewing advertising online has a similar impact7, and as the pandemic has led to children spending more time indoors, online and in front of the television, this is increasingly impactful.
Children who watch more than 3 hours of TV a day are 59% more likely to be overweight or obese than children who watch half an hour a day or less4.
When will changes come into force?
Government has committed to implementing restrictions for TV and online together at the end of 2022. They will use the upcoming Health and Care Bill to legislate for these changes before parliament’s summer recess.
Ongoing discussions are taking place with Government and trade associations about the timings for implementing both HFSS policies. This follows concerns raised by industry about ensuring sufficient implementation time. Officials have advised that businesses should assume changes will go ahead as planned.
Are there exemptions?
Following the consultation some exemptions have been made.
- Brand-only advertising, both online and on TV, will continue to be allowed. This means a company or brand, such as McDonald’s or Coco Pops, will be able to advertise if no HFSS products appear. Brands will also be allowed to continue to promote their products on their own websites and social media accounts.
- The government will use the nutrient profiling model to deem whether products are HFSS only within 17 explicit food and drink categories. This means foods such as avocados or cheese, which are high in fat, can continue to be promoted as they do not fall within a restricted category.
- Restrictions will not apply to small and medium-sized companies with less than 250 employees.
- Finally, HFSS advertising will still be allowed through audio media, such as podcasts and radio, and there will be no new restrictions for the out-of-home sector, which includes billboards, and locations such as railway stations and airports (although restrictions have been in place for many of these for years).
It’s clear that advertising plays a huge part in the choices we make, so it will be interesting to see how effective these restrictions will be in the battle against childhood obesity, and whether there are unintended consequences of restricting marketing options, such as a reduction in reformulation or healthier innovation.
Links to further information on HFSS Policy
- New promotional restrictions on using volume price and location promotions in store and online
- New advertising rules to prevent childhood obesity
1 The Guardian, 2021. UK to ban junk food advertising. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2021/jun/23/uk-to-ban-junk-food-advertising-online-and-before-9pm-on-tv-from-2023
2 DHSC 2021. Consultation outcome – Evidence note. Updated 24 June 2021. Available: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/total-restriction-of-online-advertising-for-products-high-in-fat-sugar-and-salt-hfss/evidence-note
3 PHE, 2021. Child obesity: patterns and trends. Available: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/child-obesity-patterns-and-trends
4 Cancer Research, 2018. See it, want it, buy it, eat it. How food advertising is associated with unhealthy eating behaviours in 7-11 year old children.
5 House of Commons Library, 2018. The effect of junk food advertising on obesity in children. Debate pack. Number 2018/0012
6 Cancer Research UK, 2020. Analysis of revenue for ITV1, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky One derived from HFSS TV advertising spots in September 2019. Available: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/sites/default/files/cruk_report_on_sept19_nielsen_tv_ad_analysis_-_final22july20.pdf
7 WHO, 2016. Tackling food marketing to children in a digital world. Available: https://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/322226/Tackling-food-marketing-children-digital-world-trans-disciplinary-perspectives-en.pdf