/ Food & Drink, Health, Parenting

Junk food marketing to children – is the end in sight?

Junk food

The ways that foods are marketed to children has been an issue hotly debated for many years. So is the end in sight for junk food advertising to children?

We’ve one of the worst rates of childhood obesity in the world, but foods high in fat, sugar and salt can still be marketed to children in a variety of ways.

The evidence shows (unsurprisingly given the purpose of advertising) that advertising consistently influences food preference, choice and purchasing in children and adults. And our research has repeatedly shown that people think this is an area that the Government should tackle.

Taking on junk food advertising

Well there’s now an opportunity to try and address this once and for all.

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), the industry body that sets the standards for food advertising, launched a consultation this week on new non-broadcast rules for food advertising to children.

CAP said that this consultation is in response to wider societal concerns around childhood obesity, as well as the need to ensure the advertising rules reflect changing media habits among young people. The Government will also launch a wider Childhood Obesity Strategy later this year.

There are already some restrictions in place, but they leave many gaps.

Our campaigning helped to ensure that there are restrictions in place on the ways foods high in fat, sugar and salt are advertised on TV. But rules on other media, including digital marketing (social media, blogs and advergames) are limited.

With more traditional media, such as the use of food packaging and sponsorship, there aren’t many rules, and as a result a lot of marketing of unhealthy foods to both younger children and teenagers.

TV rules still aren’t perfect either – you only have to watch early evening programmes to see that they leave children exposed to junk food advertising.

CAP has indicated that it’s looking to apply a similar approach to TV to non-broadcast. That would mean the rules would cover children up to 16 and be focused on restricting foods high in fat, sugar and salt, while allowing healthier foods to be advertised.

What’s next

We’ll be feeding into this consultation and the obesity strategy more generally to help make sure that controls are robust enough and cover the breadth of integrated media that children engage with – media which can often be difficult for adults to understand and keep track of.

So what sorts of advertising techniques frustrate you the most? Are there types of marketing that you think we should be particularly highlighting as part of this consultation?


Well it’s a start but I would imagine the end is still a long way off. The food lobby industry will no doubt kick any other initiatives into the long grass. Best way to force companies to do the right thing is to introduce an evil ceo tax of say 80% levied on companies that don’t do the right thing. Hit them were it hurts.

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It is not only “junk”food that causes all people to be overweight it is the lack of exercise some people drive themselves and their children everywhere even when going a very short distance. Walking a lot more would be beneficial. The car has taken over some people’s lives They want to get where they are going even before they set off

I have lived near a primary school for over 30 years and to start with I just had to look out for kids crossing the road in the morning and when the school closed for the day. Now there are daily hold ups because of parents delivering and collecting their children from school. As far as I am aware, the catchment area and size of the school has not changed and having spoken to the school, there is no indication that safety may be an issue.

When I went to primary school I had a long walk and when I was at secondary school, the bus stop was a fair distance from the school. I well remember the baker’s shop would occasionally sell ‘penny cakes’ – cream-filled creations laden with fat and sugar, discounted at the end of the day. Junk food is not new. I must ask a school friend if he remembers the penny cakes.

Linda says:
30 June 2016

I so have to agree with you that there is a general failure to achieve healthy exercise levels on the part of the general populace in this ‘modern’ society. My ex would even take the car to the next street to visit his friend – there are only four houses to the length of this street and his was second in their’s! Undoubtedly even worse was the mother in the house opposite driving her daughter the length of their garden in order for her to catch the school bus. It is a (media driven) tragedy that so many children no longer have the freedom to play out, forming habits that they will carry into adulthood. However it is dangerous to underplay the part that modern diet and the food industry plays in the rise in obesity or, more importantly, metabolic disorders that is sending our youth to an early grave.

There are simple answers, such as imposing extra taxes on processed food, creating new categories of foodstuffs, forcing manufacturers to display extremely prominently levels of salt in particular, as well as sugar, highlighting the use of Hydrogenated fats and, if all that fails to work, simply legislating to force manufacturers to remove sugar and salt from fizzy drinks.

This isn’t an insoluble problem and lacks only the political will, which is probably why most of it will never happen. Capitalist economies encourage innovation and competition, and that will mean companies will fight tooth and nail to stop it happening.

One thing probably beyond governmental remit, however, is bad parenting, a prime cause of childhood obesity. Even when a child is genetically predisposed to weight gain, good parenting can stop it. Sadly, there’s a pretty large minority of bad parents.

Ian – By hydrogenated fats I presume you mean trans-fats. It’s now well established that eating a significant amount of trans-fats should be avoided but in the UK, trans-fats have been removed from manufactured foods. Surprisingly, it was the large companies that led this change. Trans-fats would be shown on the label as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, and I have not seen this on a label for years. Fully hydrogenated vegetable oil is just saturated fat – as found in butter and animal fats – and does not pose the risks of eating trans-fats. Most writers don’t understand the science so wrong information continues to be published.

Indeed, Wave: I meant trans-fats. Apologies.

I think over-eating has a lot to do with it as well. Just look at some of the sizes of drinks bottles and crisp and snack packets.

It also looks like a lot of people are putting a strain on their budget as well as their waistband.

I suggest that we look at banning TV advertising of what is generally referred to as junk food, but this may need to be extended to ready meals with high sugar/fat/salt content.

The persecution of smokers for their own benefit has had an impact. It might be worth raising awareness of the complications of uncontrolled type II diabetes, such as amputation and blindness.

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I believe parents are responsible for their offspring – it is they who feed them and drive them to school, buy them electronic gizmos instead of getting them out into the fresh air for some exercise.

But, in 2014 61.7% of adults were classified as overweight or obese. So no chance of them setting an example then.

We seem to have become, with more wealth, lazy armchair overeaters. One group of Convos – latest “Toilet roll: are you being short changed?” – highlights that product sizes in shops , particularly junky food, are shrinking. That would be good for obesity perhaps, but we complain. Perhaps many of us have simply gone the way civilisations tend to – sunk into decadence?

I doubt you will change human nature by taxes, adverts (or banning them), introducing laws to reduce sugar. It is politically incorrect to make fun of fat people, so no joy there. And healthy food is as cheap as junk food, if people know what to do with it, so I don’t think it is money (not if you swig coke and lager by the bucket when water comes free from a tap). Most people have made a choice knowing the consequences – but probably, like drinkers and smokers, turning a blind eye to the possible consequences in favour of instant gratification.

Depressing, isn’t it? Until society decides self-inflicted obesity is a bad thing, until people stop overindulging by taking a pride in their health and that of their children, I just see nothing changing. 🙁

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Maybe it’s a nice day to go and get some exercise rather than sitting posting messages. Hopefully Which? Convo will not be classified as obesogenic. 🙁

Interestingly, there are changes taking place. For the past 7 weeks I’ve been on the Cardiac Rehab course of circuit training which takes place at the hospital. Talking to the chap in charge he told me that things have changed significantly since he started running this course, some 20 years earlier.

For a start, most are attending the course which, in the past, they often didn’t bother doing after the first session. Secondly, looking at my fellow victims I notice no one that can be described as overweight.

We both walk 30 to 40 miles a week over the hills and always have done. Yet I had a heart attack out of the blue. Having said that, the fact that I was so fit saw me being released early after the bypass op and being in the top 90th percentile of recovering patients. Exercise is vital, and I suspect that message is getting through. People are making choices and I suspect bringing home to them through graphical presentations the consequences of eating junk will slowly start to change behaviour. Not for everyone of course, but done in the right way I suspect it will make a difference.

I agree with you Malcolm. Question – is there anything I can do to persuade my son and his partner to feed themselves and my grandchildren healthy food and exercise the family, including themselves????????????

No – unless you threaten to cut them out of your will and put cctv in their kitchen 🙁 .People simply have to be told the right information and then want to do it. We all are free to lead our own lives the way we choose, and treat our children the same way.

Linda says:
30 June 2016

You could try introducing them to John Yudkin’s book ‘Pure, White and Deadly’ and/or Robert Lustig’s lectures ‘Sugar: The Bitter Truth’ and ‘The Complete Skinny on Obesity’ both available on youtube. Whilst they might not consider Sarah Hallberg’s TEDx talk ‘Reversing Type 2 diabetes starts with ignoring the guidelines’ (also available on youtube) pertinent, it might point them to healthier eating from a different angle. Although none of these really discuss exercise they do explain the hidden dangers of current eating habits.
As far as exercise goes rebounding (exercise using a mini trampoline) is fast becoming recognised as the best method going. It was a fad during the late 70s and 80s but really catch on from the health angle despite NASA adding it to their training program after doing research into its benefits. The research paper seems not to be available on the internet now but a google search on ‘NASA rebounding’ will bring up quite a few summary reports on it. I am sure that the grandkids having fun bouncing around will get the parents interested once they know just how good it would be for them. Again there are lots of videos on youtube, the best introduction to what it can do for your health I have seen on there is ‘Benefits of rebounding’ by PuraEco TV.
Hope this helps.

This seems to be focusing on food rather than sweets but presumably these will be included in discussion of the wider issues. I was in a branch of a nationwide cut price department store shortly before Easter and took the chance to pick up a couple of Easter eggs for grandchildren. Having checked them through the till, the Manager made a point of asking me if “in addition” to what I already had purchased I would like to buy some more sweets. The area up to and around the cash desk was lined with shelves and containers full of easter eggs, various packets of sweets, crisps, etc. and when I said that I understood that shops were being discouraged from having those kinds of things near the checkout he said he’d never heard of it. I pointed out it was due to concern for the health of children and he said it wasn’t him that made the stores policy. He was obviously completely unconcerned.

Linda says:
30 June 2016

The sad fact is that this is not an overnight phenomenon but has its roots way back in the middle of last century. Thanks to some poorly designed research, Ancel Keys, Senator McGovern and a young vegetarian report writer, animal fats got themselves a bad reputation and carbohydrates became the focus of the modern diet. This despite many eminent scientists of the time raising concerns to the contrary and there being absolutely no dietary requirement for carbohydrates at all.
Fat adds flavour to food, our forefathers knew this. With its fat content reduced, food became tasteless so the food industry added sugar. Sugar is 50 % fructose (HFCS 55%, Honey 45%, Agave syrup 95%). Fructose has no nutritional function. In fact, in this form, the body cannot process it so the liver converts it to a type of fat that can never be used for energy but will lead to metabolic disorder as it builds up. At the same time, sweetness of any kind prompts the body to expect a food source and release insulin. With nothing to do, that spare insulin running around in the bloodstream initiates the process of insulin resistance that will sooner or later lead to full blown type 2 diabetes. John Yudkin tried to tell us this when he published his research in ‘Pure, White and Deadly’ but he was laughed into obscurity when discredited by Ancel Keys.
Fat has 9 calories per gram, protein and carbohydrates each have 4. So it stands to reason that it is better to eat less fat and get our energy from carbs, right? Wrong! Fat takes a really long time to be processed so requires quite a lot of energy in its digestion. This means some of its extra calories are being consumed before it itself is absorbed. In addition, because of the way the body processes fat it enters the bloodstream directly, bypassing the liver at this stage. Carbohydrates, on the other hand, are digested really quickly, pass into the liver and are converted to sugars. What isn’t used for instant energy returns to the liver to be converted to fats and stored for later use – except there will be no requirement later since by then we’ll be eating our next meal and starting the cycle all over again. Protein, by the by, is also digested slowly. Between them fat & protein keep us feeling fuller for longer whilst the carbohydrates are long gone leaving us hungry for the next sugar laden snack.
So then, because waistlines are expanding, the food industry starts adding artificial sweeteners to our diets. Oh great, diet coke can help me lose weight right? Wrong! Remember ‘sweet’ of any kind kicks off the insulin cycle. So, because there is no food source for it to get to work, it adds to the insulin resistance started by fructose consumption. But, even worse, artificial sweeteners interfere with production of the hunger hormones that are responsible for feelings of satiety. Because we don’t get that ‘full’ feeling we eat more so waistlines expand. Diet drinks may, in an of themselves, contain fewer calories but they do drive increased calorie consumption.
And the worst thing about all this? The Food Industry knows all it. Obesity is not the fault of the obese. The Food Industry is making a profit from a health epidemic of its own making! And what is the Health Industry doing about it? The Health Industry is encouraging us to eat the carbohydrates, drink the low calorie pops and add the artificial sweeteners to our coffees that are driving that health epidemic!!! No wonder the NHS is running out of money.
Admittedly these are not the only reasons that the modern western diet is leading to a health catastrophe but they are major contributors.