Fact or Fiction: The UK Will Ban Junk Food Advertising

This is a fact!

In the United Kingdom (UK), more than £600 million is spent by brands on all food advertising online and on TV annually. The UK government has announced it will ban on junk food advertising online and before 9pm on TV starting in 2023. Research has found that one in three children leaving primary school in England are overweight or obese, as are almost two-thirds of adults in England.

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A major reason why the UK would enact an ad ban to reduce obesity is because the UK has a National Health Service that provides publicly-funded healthcare to all residents. So the improved health of the citizenry would directly affect the UK’s expenses.

The online ad ban would affect all paid-for forms of digital marketing, from ads on Facebook to paid-search results on Google, text message promotions, and paid activity on sites such as Instagram and Twitter.

Exceptions to the ban include:

Brand-only advertising online and on TV will continue to be allowed. This means a company like McDonald’s can still advertise as long as no high in fat, salt and sugar (“HFSS”) products appear. Brands will also be allowed to continue to promote their products on their own websites and social media accounts.

Products not considered as traditional “junk food”, such as honey and jam.

Small and medium-sized companies – those with less than 250 employees – will continue to be allowed to advertise junk food products.

Audio media, such as podcasts and radio, advertising.

There are no restrictions for the out-of-home sector, which includes billboards, poster sites, on buses, and in locations such as railway stations and airports.

Could the United States Enact A Similar Ban?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has been calling for a ban on junk food advertising for years. In 2006, the AAP stated in a policy statement about children and advertising that the Congress should “implement a ban on junk-food advertising during programming that is viewed predominantly by young children.” In 2011, the AAP stated in another policy statement that the “sheer number of advertisements that children and adolescents see for junk food and fast food have an effect.”

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The Federal Communications Commission or FCC can regulate certain advertising, such as lotteries, cigarettes, little cigars or smokeless tobacco products; or perpetuates a fraud. Federal laws prohibit or limit obscene, indecent or profane language on broadcast TV. Obscene broadcasts are prohibited at all times, while indecent or profane broadcasts are prohibited during certain hours. However, broadcasters are responsible for selecting the broadcast material that airs on their stations, including advertisements. Thus, in the U.S. any reduction in junk food ads on TV or online would need to be voluntary by the advertisers or broadcasters.

In 2013 four senators sent a letter to Nickelodeon and its parent company Viacom asking that the children’s network ban unhealthy junk food advertisements targeting children. Unfortunately, Nickelodeon refused to respond to pressure to ban junk food advertising.

In contrast, Disney announced it would phase in restrictions for junk food ads until all junk food ads will be banned by 2015.

What do you think? Should the government have more power to ban advertisements to protect health? Should private companies like Disney or PBS limit junk food ads targeted at children?

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