Restricting junk food advertising

A campaign to tackle children's obesity

An infographic showing how junk food tv adverts result in children's "pester power"

A new report by the Cancer Policy Research Centre shows that children who watch commercial TV for more than 3 hours per day are more than twice as likely to pester their parents for junk food, almost 3 times more likely to buy junk food and twice as likely to eat crisps and have sugary drinks. The report also found children who spend more than half an hour online are twice as likely to pester for junk food. We showed some primary school children a range of adverts that were designed to appeal to them or were shown during family shows on TV.

Why campaign on childhood obesity?

Being overweight or obese is the biggest preventable cause of cancer in the UK after smoking. In fact, obesity is linked to 13 different types of cancer.

Over one in five children in England are overweight or obese before they start primary school. By the time they leave, this increases to over one in three. Acting early is critical - obese children are more likely to grow into obese adults, and obese adults are more likely to develop cancer.

Find out more about our campaign to restrict junk food ads on TV before 9pm below and make sure campaign actions and updates are delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to be a Cancer Research UK e-campaigner today.

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The UK Government must take action to tackle junk food marketing and price promotions on items high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS). A strong childhood obesity plan will give children a better chance to eat healthily, stay a healthy weight and avoid cancer in later life.

In particular, we want the UK Government to:

  • update current rules to better reflect what children watch on TV by extending existing regulations to restrict junk food ads before the 9pm watershed.
  • include on-demand and online viewing within the same rules – to make sure young people are protected however they watch programmes.
  • introduce legislation to restrict multi-buy price promotions on HFSS foods - e.g. ‘buy one, get one free’, ‘three for the price of two’, and ‘X for £Y’ offers.

The Government have set out a bold ambition to halve childhood obesity by 2030 in its newly updated plan. It says it will do this in many ways, most importantly through tackling how junk food is marketed at children and families.

Proposed measures include a potential ban on junk food adverts before the 9pm watershed with similar protections online and a ban on promotions for foods high in fat, salt or sugar in shops.

We’ve been campaigning on this for a long time across the UK - this shows that the Government has been listening.

The Government will gather opinions from the public, health bodies, food and drinks and advertising industries, on what the ban should look like before the end of the year. 

We know there will be a big push back from industry, but the evidence is strong. Adverts for junk food on TV make a difference to the foods children prefer and choose to buy (or pester their parents into buying) – often without them even realising it. Junk food adverts are already banned on kids’ TV but not on mainstream family viewing. Restricting these adverts on TV won’t solve the obesity problem but not allowing them to be shown before 9pm can only help.

We need to keep up the pressure to make sure the plan isn't watered down or forgotten. Sign up to be a Cancer Research UK e-campaigner today to make sure new campaign actions and updates are delivered straight to your inbox.

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We congratulate the Government on putting forward this bold plan, demonstrating its commitment to address one of the most significant health challenges of our time. Once implemented following the consultation, the proposed restrictions on junk food advertising will make an enormous impact on childhood obesity rates – Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive

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