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FSA 'disappointed' at junk food ad proposals

By Anthony Fletcher , 16-Jun-2006

The UK's FSA has expressed 'disappointment' at Ofcom's proposals on junk food advertising to kids, arguing that they are an insufficient response to the problem posed to children's health.

In particular, the FSA (Food Standards Agency) criticised the consultation's focus on only on protecting children up the age of nine.

It argued that any restrictions must protect children up to the age of 15 years old, particularly as children between 9 to 15 years often make their own food choices and purchases.

 

"Children are targeted every day with messages that promote foods that are high in fat, salt or sugar, and the Hastings Review clearly showed that this does have an influence on children's food choices," said FSA chair Deirdre Hutton.

 

"With a quarter of all 11 to 15 year olds now facing obesity, we have to be sure that any restrictions on advertising are aimed at children of all ages to have a real effect in helping to reverse this trend. This includes making sure that we do not inadvertently restrict the positive promotion of healthy foods."

 

The Hastings Review refers to the report Does Food Promotion Influence Children? A Systematic Review of the Evidence , which was produced for the FSA by professor Gerard Hastings and his team at the University of Strathclyde Centre for Social Marketing and published in September 2003.

 

The research, which aimed to review and appraise the evidence available on the effect of promotional activities on the eating behaviour of children, concluded that there was a lot of food advertising to children, and that he advertised diet was less healthy than the recommended one.

 

The FSA therefore expressed support for a pre-9pm watershed on advertisements for products high in fat, salt or sugar, which would offer a practical means of extending protection to older children and would be consistent with other broadcasting controls.

 

It also said that it would not support any options that would restrict advertising of all foods, including foods such as fruit and vegetables, which would conflict with the promotion of healthy eating.

 

"Currently, only one of the consultation's options uses the agency's nutrient profiling model to ensure that restrictions only apply to foods that are high in fat, salt or sugar," said the FSA yesterday.

 

"Underpinning the restrictions with the nutrient profiling model would also provide an incentive for industry to reformulate their products to reduce fat, salt and sugar."

 

The nutrient profiling model was developed by the FSA to provide Ofcom with a tool for categorising foods on the basis of their nutrient content and aid them in its work of reducing the amount of advertising directed at children for foods high in saturated fat, sugar or salt.

 

Ofcom's four proposals were published amid rising consumer concern about childhood obesity and over-consumption of food and drink products that are high in fat, salt and sugar.

 

All of the options set out by Ofcom have two things in common: a ban on food and drink advertising or sponsorship to pre-school children and a set of eight rules about the content of food and drink advertising set out by the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP).

 

The FSA's response to the Ofcom consultation was issued in order to meet Ofcom's previous consultation deadline of 6 June. However, Ofcom have since extended this deadline to the 30 June.

 

Ofcom has set out four alternative proposals for new restrictions.

 

OPTION 1: Timing restrictions on specific food and drink products.

 

No HFSS product advertising to be shown in programmes specifically made for children;

 

No HFSS product advertising to be shown in programmes of particular appeal to children up to 9 years old;

 

No sponsorship by HFSS products of programmes affected by the above restrictions;

 

BCAPs rules will be applied to food and drink advertising and sponsorship.

 

OPTION 2: Timing restrictions on all food and drink advertising.

 

No food or drink advertising to be shown in programmes specifically made for children;

 

No food or drink advertising to be shown in programmes of particular appeal to children up to 9 years old;

 

No sponsorship by food or drink products of programmes affected by the above restrictions;

 

The above restrictions do not apply to healthy eating campaigns supported or endorsed by the Government;

 

BCAPs rules will be applied to food and drink advertising and sponsorship.

 

OPTION 3: Volume based restrictions on all food and drink products.

 

No food or drink advertising at all to be shown in programmes made for pre-school children.

 

A limit to the amount of food and drink advertising when children are most likely to be watching.

 

BCAPs rules will be applied to food and drink advertising and sponsorship.

 

OPTION 4: an invitation to propose a workable and effective option, combining some or all of the above and/or new elements, which commands industry support.

 

With this last option Ofcom is making an open invitation to all parties to put forward an alternative common position, if one can be identified, through the consultation process.