Could This Be the End of Junk-Food Commercials on Television in the U.K.?

Addressing the obesity crisis in the country has some members of Parliament recommending a ban on ads for unhealthy items before 9 p.m.
(Photo: Brasil2/Getty Images; food image: YouTube)
Nov 30, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Sugar-laden cereals, sweetened drinks, and salt- and fat-packed pizza and burgers—turn on a television network or show geared toward kids here in the United States, and the commercial breaks are an advertising avalanche of junk food. But across the pond in the U.K., encouraging kids to taste a calorie-filled rainbow of artificial colors and flavors as they tune in to Saturday-morning cartoons has been prohibited since 2006.

With the health-related consequences of obesity costing the U.K. about $7.6 billion a year, some government officials in Britain are looking to crack down even more on kids’ consumption of junk—and television advertisements are a key target.

RELATED: Junk-Food Makers Lied: They’re Still Trying to Make Your Kids Eat Sugar

On Monday, a House of Commons committee issued a sobering 57-page report on child obesity, with several suggestions to curb the problem, such as enacting a 20 percent tax on soda and universal school-food standards. But further reducing children’s exposure to high sugar, salt, and fat items while they’re tuning in to prime-time television is also on the list.

“Many organizations have been campaigning for current restrictions on advertising high fat, salt, and sugar products—which cannot be advertised during specific children’s programming—to be extended to the 9 p.m. watershed,” wrote the report’s authors. “The argument for such an extension is that the current restrictions miss much of the TV children watch outside specific children’s programming but during ‘family’ viewing time—for example, programs such as X-Factor, which are shown early on a Saturday and Sunday evening.”

In other words, any show that a kid might watch before bedtime would be banned from selling commercial airtime to junk-food companies. Unsurprisingly, the U.K.’s Advertising Association dismissed the report’s recommendation to reduce commercials for HFSS (high fat, sugar, and sodium) items.

“The bigger picture is that food advertising in the U.K. is among the most strictly regulated in the world—children see far fewer HFSS ads on TV today than ever before, and new rules already being considered would mean no advertising targeted at children in any media,” Ian Barber, director of communications at the Advertising Association, told The Guardian. “A 9 p.m. watershed is an analogue measure for a digital age that would hit program budgets hard, even on channels with few or no children watching.”

RELATED: Here’s What Happened When a Guy in Amsterdam Quit Sugar for a Month

However, given the scope of the U.K.’s obesity problem, the chair of the parliamentary health committee, Sarah Wollaston, urged that the government take drastic action on the issue.

“One-third of children leaving primary school are overweight or obese, and the most deprived children are twice as likely to be obese than the least deprived,” Wollaston said in a statement. “There are many causes, and no one single or simplistic approach will provide the answer. We therefore urge the prime minister to make a positive and lasting difference to children’s health and life chances through bold and wide-ranging measures within his childhood obesity strategy.”