• U.K. Regulators Propose To Tighten Rules on Kids Food Ads
  • April 26, 2006
  • Law Firm: Reed Smith LLP - Pittsburgh Office
  • The U.K. Office of Communications (Ofcom) has proposed three alternative regulatory packages aimed at regulating food product advertising to children. Ofcom's proposal contains two parts -- proposed content rules, and three alternative approaches to the volume of ads and times they could run.

    All three options would forbid the advertising of high-fat/sugar/salt (HFSS) foods in programs aimed at preschool children, or sponsorship of such programs by HFSS food products. The content-based restrictions call on advertisers to:

    • Avoid anything likely to encourage poor nutritional habits or an unhealthy lifestyle in children
    • Refrain from advising children to buy, or asking their parents to buy products
    • Limit promotional offers, including collectables and giveaways in food and drink ads, to children aged 10 and above
    • Cease using celebrities and licensed characters in food and drink ads targeted to children under the age of 10
    • Avoid condoning or encouraging excessive consumption of any food or drink

    In addition to these and other content-based restrictions, Ofcom issued three regulatory packages suggesting alternative approaches to addressing ad volumes and timing. The office took no official position on which option should prevail, and suggested it would be receptive to other proposals.

    Under Ofcom's first proposed option, the prohibition from advertising HFSS foods would be extended to apply to programs that appealed to children as old as 9, in addition to applying to preschool programs.

    A second, more Draconian, option proposes prohibiting food and drink advertising altogether, as opposed to only those labeled as HFSS products, from programs made for preschool children through age 9.

    The third option proposed by Ofcom seeks to limit the amount of food ads that could be shown to children during time periods when they are most likely to be watching television. For example, the agency proposed limiting such ads to 30 seconds per hour in peak viewing hours during the week.

    Ofcom considered, but declined to act on, two of the most extreme options on its spectrum, which included leaving the issue to industry self-regulation, or banning all HFSS food advertising until 9 p.m.

    The agency has put forth its proposal for consultation through June 6.

    Why This Matters: Advertisers are under a tremendous amount of pressure to revisit their approach to marketing food products to children, in light of childhood obesity and other health concerns. Ofcom's proposal seems to indicate the agency will not rely on industry self-regulation alone to address the issue. Even though Ofcom comes from overseas, U.S. regulators and consumer activist groups increasingly are looking to international precedents by which to base arguments for Draconian nutritional standards.