Campaigners call on food & drink brands to refrain from advertising ‘junk food’ before 9pm across all media platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic

21 May 2020

Today, Action on Salt & Sugar and Children’s Food Campaign are calling on all food & drink companies to refrain from advertising any food or drink high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) before 9pm across all media platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They call for this to remain in place until the UK Government is able to resume its previously planned work to introduce further restrictions on junk food advertising, as part of current Childhood Obesity Plan measures.

This call comes amidst reports that Kellogg’s has been exposed for irresponsibly advertising its 'Pringles' snack products to families at the start of ‘PE with Joe’ exercise sessions on YouTube, according to a successfully resolved complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority[1]. In April, a ‘pre-roll’ ad for Pringles appeared to an unspecified number of the hundreds of thousands of children (and their parents) who tune in to ‘PE with Joe’ online every weekday, undermining what is meant to be a much-needed health boost during lockdown.

The brand has now dropped all of its advertising from Joe Wicks’ Body Coach YouTube channel (of which Joe has no control over), avoiding a formal regulatory investigation into its online advertising practices[2].

Under current government rules, food and drink brands are not allowed to promote their ‘less healthy’ products on children’s TV, or any media channel, with an audience of more than 25% under-16s. However, loopholes for online platforms and social media exist, allowing brands and digital marketers to find ways around the rules. 

Kellogg’s is not the only brand exploiting loopholes via YouTube. Oreos (Cadburys / Mondelez) has also placed pre-roll ads on Joe Wicks’ YouTube channel at a time when children of all ages are eagerly searching and watching content from their favourite celebrities[3].

There is already comprehensive evidence showing the harmful effect of unhealthy food and drink advertising, and a UK Government consultation included the option of a 9pm advertising watershed to be applied to HFSS food and drinks, the outcome of which is yet to be announced[4].

A recent survey by the Obesity Health Alliance found that the majority (62%) of people believe that supermarkets have a key role to play in helping people to be healthy at the moment[5]. At a time where population health and wellbeing is so important, is it vital that the food and drink industry recognises their role and responsibility in helping us to overcome the challenges that we all face during lockdown.

 

Find out more about the harmful effects of HFSS advertising to children in our ‘Advertising, Marketing and Obesity’ briefing. 

Also read our 2019 position statement on Restricting Children’s Exposure to Junk Food Advertising

Check out our video summarising the public support for restricting HFSS advertising, following polling conducted by Obesity Action Scotland and YouGov last year.

 

References

[1] Advertising Standards Authority webpage listing informally resolved cases https://www.asa.org.uk/codes-andrulings/rulings.html#informally-resolved

[2] Details taken from letter sent from ASA to complainant explaining the informal resolution of complaint, 6 May 2020

[3] Oreos advert is subject of a separate complaint recently submitted to ASA awaiting verdict

[4] UK Government, 2019. Further advertising restrictions for products high in fat, salt and sugar. https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/further-advertising-restrictions-for-products-high-in-fat-salt-and-sugar

[5] Obesity Health Alliance, 2020. Briefing: How are COVID-19 measures affecting the food environment? http://obesityhealthalliance.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/OHA-polling-data-summary-final.pdf