/ 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.


To me its down to parental guidance and advice if wee jenny and johnny kick up about you restricting them eating chemicals instead of good wholesome food dont give in ,its their future health that is at stake . Do you want to live longer than your children ? sugar diabetes in the US is now a national disease of epidemic proportions , so is heart disease and strokes . But what you have here is adverts copying US advertising as US food companies are taking over UK ones and introducing high pressure sales tactics= YOU know you want it, YOU love it it, how GOOD is it mmmmm ! luvly , happy smiley faces being part of the social scene for young people . Actors with glum faces eating good food in black and white , actors eating YUM YUM food all technicolour full of “heavenly delight ” What I would do to advertisers is now classed as illegal.

Peter Butler says:
14 May 2016

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.