Strong Public Support for New Measures to Protect Children from Junk Food Marketing

In recent weeks there have been reports that the Prime Minister is considering reviewing new policies that will reduce how and where unhealthy food and drinks can be marketed, following intense lobbying from some parts of the food and advertising industry. These new rules – which will apply to promotions in shops and advertising on TV and online – were announced in 2020 as part of a landmark government strategy to reduce obesity and are due to come in from October this year. 

Watering down or removing these measures would put the Prime Minister at odds with both the public mood and that of health experts. Campaigners, such as the health charities and medical organisations making up the Obesity Health Alliance have long called for tighter restrictions to protect children from junk food marketing. This is based on clear evidence demonstrating the influential power of food marketing and the impact this has on what children eat and how much they eat. This wouldn’t be a problem if the majority of food marketing was for food and drinks that benefit our health. But it’s clearly not. Analysis has shown that around half of the food advertising children see on TV and 60% of the food adverts seen online are promoting products that are high in fat, sugar and salt. This is even higher in peak times, when one in three of all adverts can be for unhealthy food and drinks.

Recent polling conducted by ComRes has highlighted significant public support for new restrictions, showing how the UK public are fed up with being bombarded with junk food marketing. 

  • 74% of people support stopping junk food adverts being shown on TV before 9pm
  • 74% of people support stopping junk food adverts being shown online
  • 72% want to see restrictions on shops promoting unhealthy foods in prominent areas such as at checkouts and in shop entrances
  • 57% welcome restrictions on multi-buy promotional offers (e.g. buy-one-get-one free) on unhealthy foods in shops

It is clear that action on unhealthy food marketing is long overdue. The last two-years have placed a heavy burden on the health of nation. People living with obesity were more likely to suffer severe complications and death from COVID-19. Worryingly, children’s health has suffered under lockdown measures. Childhood obesity is now at a devastating all-time high. 28% of children now start primary school with a weight classed as overweight or obese. This rises to 41% by the time they leave primary school. 

Restricting junk food adverts on TV and online could reduce the number of children with obesity by more than 20,000, while the restrictions on junk food promotions in shops will bring financial benefits to society of around £7 billion over 25 years – as the impact of better diets lead to cost savings in the NHS and wider society.

These new measures to protect children from junk food adverts are evidence-based, hugely needed, and wanted by the British public. The Government must stand firm on its promises to level up society and reduce childhood obesity by putting health at the heart of policy.