Advertising industry bodies have slammed Government plans to banish junk food ads before the 9pm watershed – both on TV and online – insisting the “ineffective” and “misguided” proposals are a “blunt and totally disproportionate measure”.
The plans, which also include outlawing “Buy one get one free” deals on unhealthy food, restrictions on where foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) can be promoted in store and new rules for displaying calories on menus.
Prime minister Boris Johnson said the plans would help “reduce our health risks and protect ourselves against coronavirus”, amid growing evidence of a link between obesity and an increased risk from Covid-19. Government statistics showed nearly 8% of critically ill patients in intensive care units with the virus have been morbidly obese, compared with 2.9% of the general population.
However, Advertising Association director of public affairs Sue Eustace commented: “We are bitterly disappointed by the announcement by the Government that they are to press ahead with measures against advertising that are misguided, unfounded and will be totally ineffective in the fight against obesity.
“The Government’s very own research has shown that a 9pm watershed ban on HFSS advertising will reduce a child’s calorie intake by a miniscule 1.7 calories per day – the equivalent of half a Smartie.
She added that the “unwarranted and unprecedented” ban on online HFSS advertising is a “blunt and totally disproportionate measure”, insisting it will prevent food and drink businesses large and small up and down the country from being able to advertise and market their products. It will also impact online publishers, with consequences for journalism.
The AA argues that, given the already strict rules in place, enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority, the new measures would be wrong even in the most favourable economic circumstances, but to impose them during the current climate is an “affront to hard-working business owners” and is not what would be expected of a Government seeking to create a business-friendly environment.
Eustace concluded: “These proposed bans will not solve the structural inequalities linked to deprivation that cause higher rates of obesity among people, just as attention-grabbing new regulations will not undo decades of under-investment in targeted and community-based health initiatives.
“Advertising has a unique ability to be part of the solution to obesity by promoting healthy lifestyles, as the recent ‘Eat Them To Defeat Them’ TV campaign to encourage children to eat vegetables shows. It seems the Government has ignored its own research showing how ineffective these proposals would be.”
The IPA, which represents agencies, is equally scathing. Director general Paul Bainsfair said: “We have always supported the aim of tackling the problem of obesity in the UK but we have always made the case that the introduction of further restrictions on advertising will not help achieve that aim.
“We are deeply disappointed by these proposals. They disregard the evidence – including the Government’s own – on the impact of restrictions on HFSS advertising and will punish the very businesses that have been helping the country get through the Covid-19 crisis, including food manufacturers, retailers and commercial broadcasters.
“They also fail to acknowledge the UK’s highly respected self-regulatory system which already imposes tough rules on the advertising of HFSS products across all media, including TV and online.
“The proposals come at the worst possible time for the advertising sector and for industry. The Government should be supporting businesses which have been reeling from the Covid-19 crisis, not banning them from advertising their products.
“The Government is encouraging the country to Eat Out to Help Out but at the same time intending to introduce a ban on advertising HFSS products. Advertising fuels the economy and should be used as a key enabler in getting the country’s economy back on its feet. Ad bans will do the opposite.”
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