Junk food ads banned on kid’s TV

Junk food advertising should be banned on all television programmes aimed at children under the age of 16, the broadcasting watchdog has said.

Ofcom has also announced new rules banning the use of celebrities and cartoon characters from adverts targeted at primary school children, as part of a drive to tackle the growing number of obese youngsters in Britain.

The government said the proposals struck a balance between children’s health and the loss of revenue for broadcasters, which Ofcom estimates at up to £39 million a year.

But the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said it was “shocked” by the new regulations – which will come into force in January next year – and accused Ofcom of going “over the top” in proposing a 24-hour ban.

Meanwhile, health groups are dismayed that the plans do not go far enough – the British Medical Association (BMA) said they would fail to cover TV soaps that were not targeted at under 16s but were widely watched by them.

And the British Heart Foundation (BHF) said Ofcom had “absolutely failed to deliver”, as their plans fell “way short” of the call for a ban on all junk food ads after 9pm.

Today’s proposals are the result of an eight-month consultation on how junk food advertising can be limited to stem the rising tide of obesity. Official figures suggest 22 per cent of young girls and 19 per cent of boys will be official obese by 2010.

Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said that based on the evidence, “we believe the case for intervention is clear”. Today’s proposals were “significant but proportionate”, he said.

However, the FDF warned the new regulations were based on a definition of junk food – foods high in fat, salt and sugar – that was “scientifically flawed”.

Director general Melanie Leech warned the proposals would provide an “unnecessary curb” on adult viewing and said Ofcom had “moved the goalposts”.

She added: “The debate around this important issue has been based on high emotions and subjective opinions rather than a sensible dialogue about how we can tackle childhood obesity.”

However, BMA head of science and ethics Vivienne Nathanson warned: “Ofcom clearly believes that TV advertising has an effect on children’s eating habits, yet it does not have the courage to recommend a more comprehensive ban.”

BHF chief executive Peter Hollins added: “[Ofcom’s] proposal falls way short of the 9pm watershed ban backed by parents and campaigners alike. How can they claim victory for protecting only 40 per cent of the nation’s kids?”

But health secretary Patricia Hewitt said: “It is not the role of government to tell people how to live their lives but the public expect government to help them make healthier choices.

“We want to help parents to give their children healthier food and reduce ‘pester power’ in shops. Combined with clearer food labelling and better school meals, Ofcom’s proposals should help give families the support they want.”