Hey Internet, leave those kids alone

The UK Government is to ban online junk food adverts and fine companies who fail to protect children from harmful content

The UK is headed for huge fines on internet sites that do not protect children from harmful content while advertising food and drink that is high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) faces a total online ban.

The Queen’s Speech laid out the Conservative Government’s legislative plans for the year ahead as parliament was opened yesterday. The speech said the Government’s post-covid priority was to tackle the nation’s obesity crisis and so ‘junk food’ ads would be banned from the internet and only allowed on television after 9pm.

At the same time, a new law, which could be published as early as this week, is expected to confront internet sites with multi-billion-pound fines if they fail to protect children from harmful content. The Government has previously suggested it could give Ofcom the power to fine the worst offenders 10% of their annual turnover. One paper is suggesting this has put the social media giants on high alert that they must get better at filtering out material containing abuse, terrorism and sexual references.

Ad industry questions HFSS ban

The new measures restricting HFSS food and drink advertising are expected to be in place before the end of 2022 with one newspaper suggesting supermarkets will be forced to stop promotions on HFSS food and drinks by April 2022.

The body that represents digital advertising company, the IAB UK, has issued a strongly-worded statement. Its CEO, Jonathan Mew, said:

“We strongly disagree with the ban and the Government’s rationale for it. We recognise that childhood obesity is a significant challenge that must be addressed, and our view remains that an online ad ban is not the solution to this complex problem. The archaic action the Government is taking disregards prevailing evidence relating to the causes of obesity and ignores smarter, digital-led solutions put forward by advertising’s regulatory body that could further limit children’s exposure to digital advertising in a proportionate and targeted way.”

Health campaigners, however, have expressed delight at the Government committing itself to legislating against ‘junk’ food advertising, after many years of the issue being discussed at Whitehall.

The British Heart Foundation said: “Obesity is a major risk factor for heart and circulatory diseases, such as heart attack and stroke. To create a healthier nation, it is vital the Government forges ahead with its obesity strategy, including introducing tougher restrictions on TV and online junk food advertisements.”

Featured image: Abscent / Shutterstock.com

Sean Hargrave

Sean Hargrave is the former Innovation Editor of The Sunday Times, now freelancing for The Guardian, The Telegraph, Wired and digital marketing, websites, Econsultancy, Marketing Week, London Research and Mediapost. He uses more than two decades of experience in the media to help companies with their content and communications strategy to deliver leads through white papers, blogs and opinion pieces. For MediaCat UK, Sean keeps ahead of the latest news and trends.

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