FDF members are committed to marketing their products in a responsible way. The UK food and drink industry has long shown this commitment through adherence to stringent advertising codes of practice that exist at global, regional and national levels (please see below – Current Advertising Regulation).
Governments have recently called for advertising restrictions to be extended and for restrictions to promotion of certain food and drinks to be introduced, as part of the respective childhood obesity prevention plans in England, Scotland and Wales (please see below – Next Steps for Advertising and Promotion Restrictions).
FDF does not support the proposed bans. We believe they will have no significant impact on childhood obesity levels. For example, the proposed extension to advertising restrictions which call for a restriction on advertising before 9pm on both TV and the internet is predicted to make a 2-calorie difference to children’s intakes. However, they will have a significant impact on food companies by restricting their ability to compete, to effectively reach their adult markets and by introducing complicated and bureaucratic rules. The likely result is fewer products on the market and higher food prices.
The Government is consulting on a potential 9pm watershed for TV and internet advertising of HFSS products. FDF does not agree with these additional restrictions as there are there are already strictly enforced rules in the UK which prohibit advertising of HFSS products to children on TV and in non-broadcast media. There are also additional content rules for HFSS adverts which ban the use of celebrities and licensed characters of appeal to children.
We do not believe these proposals will affect childhood obesity. It is estimated that a 9pm watershed on TV and internet HFSS advertising will only result in a 2-calorie daily deficit in children’s diets. The proposals also limit the scope for advertising reformulated or small portioned products, which will inhibit the ability of businesses to bring these products to market successfully, risking the success of the PHE reformulation programmes.
FDF believe promotions should be acknowledged for the varied and significant benefits they offer to consumers, retailers and manufacturers. We do not believe bans to promotion of food and drinks should be introduced for the following reasons:
- The benefits to consumers of promotions are significant; they reduce the cost of food and enable new innovations and brands to be brought to the market.
- Promoting foods to adults is a fundamental commercial freedom - it is adults whom promotions are aimed at, not children.
- There is a very limited evidence base to suggest that banning promotions would help to reduce childhood obesity.
- This would limit the scope for promoting reformulated or small portioned products and risk the success of the PHE reformulation programmes.
- Government policies should not put further pressure on rising food costs and household budgets.
Governments Proposals for Further Restrictions
In June 2018, the Government published Childhood obesity: a plan for action - Chapter 2. This sets a ‘national ambition to halve childhood obesity and significantly reduce the gap between children from the most and least deprived areas by 2030’. The plan announced Government’s intention to introduce further rules for marketing of food and drinks, including:
- a consultation on a 9pm watershed for TV advertising of HFSS products, and similar protection for children viewing adverts online. This will also consider whether the current self- regulatory approach for non-broadcast advertising continues to be the right approach for protecting children from the advertising of HFSS products, or whether legislation is necessary.
- a consultation on banning price promotions (e.g. buy one get one free) and promotion by location (e.g. checkouts) of food and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt.
In July 2018, the Scottish Government (SG) published its obesity prevention plan – A Healthier Future. It contains the overarching ambition, mirrored by England, to half childhood obesity by 2030 and reduce health inequalities. With respect to marketing, SG will:
- renew its call to Westminster to ban broadcast advertising of HFSS foods before 9pm watershed
- renew its call to Westminster to work together on online advertising restrictions
- call on UK Government to restrict use of licensed characters, brand equity characters and celebrities on HFSS products
- engage with local authorities, transport companies and media agencies to develop a code of practice in 2019 to restrict advertising of HFSS foods on sites they manage such as bus shelters, stations and inside buses and trains
- request that the ASA strengthen the implementation of its CAP code by removing advertising of HFSS foods within a radius of 800m of any site with 25% or more footfall by under 16 year old’s, including schools
- undertake a consultation to restrict the promotion of food and drink high in fat, sugar and salt. The consultation on this closed in January 2019
In January 2019, The Welsh Government published a draft obesity strategy which proposes a limit on the use of advertising and promotion of unhealthy food in public places. This would include, but is not limited to, train and bus stations/bus stops/on buses and at sporting and other events.
The Welsh Government also set out its support of a 9pm watershed for HFSS advertisements, and suggests that the use of brand generated and licensed character/celebrity endorsement of products should be banned across all media.
Transport for London Advertising Restrictions
In February 2019, Transport for London (TfL) implemented a ban on advertisements for HFSS products across its network. The ban also states that food and drink companies cannot advertise their brand unless it promotes a healthier (non HFSS) product. Restrictions apply across the TfL estate including underground, TfL rail, buses, river services, tram, DLR and taxi services.
Incidental images, graphical representations and references to products that promote the consumption of HFSS products will also not be permitted.
The definition of a HFSS product is determined by the current UK nutrient profiling model and TfL has confirmed that the outcome of any review or revision of the nutrient profiling model will be ‘taken into consideration’.
Advertisements for HFSS products may be considered for an exception by TfL if the advertiser can demonstrate, with appropriate evidence, that the product does not contribute to child obesity. Guidance on exemptions is available, and includes consideration of:
- Is there is a ‘healthier’ version of the product that passes the NPM?
- Is the product on PHE’s sugar or calorie reduction lists?
- Is the product generally consumed by children? (under 18)
- Does the presentation of the product appeal to children?