The advertising of soft drinks and junk food to children while they are browsing online could be banned.
A public consultation has been launched by the Committee of Advertising Practice, the body responsible for writing the UK Advertising Code. The proposed rules would limit where advertising for food and soft drink products high in fat, salt or sugar can be broadcast to children, bringing the internet more in line with traditional media, such as TV.
Adverts can pop up on websites aimed at children, and can be broadcast during children’s TV programmes watched through the internet.
The proposals would also allow popular children’s characters to be used to advertise food and drink – lifting existing regulations – but restrict it to healthy foods only.
James Best, chairman of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), said: “There is some evidence that advertising can influence children’s short-term food preferences, but not enough to show material effects on longer-term behaviour and diet. Advertising is just one small factor in a very complex equation.
“However, this does not mean we take a ‘do nothing’ approach. The advertising industry recognises the need to play its part responding to the public health challenge.”
The consultation, which runs until 22 July, will explore what role advertising regulation can play in tackling the issue, alongside a co-ordinated approach involving parents, schools and a wide range of public health professionals and regulatory bodies.
It will also look at whether the advertising of unhealthy products should be prohibited in media targeted at or of particular appeal to children who are under 12 or under 16.
Mr Best added: “CAP itself considers that it is a legitimate policy aim to place appropriate restrictions on advertising to help protect the health and well-being of children and not undermine progress towards improving the nation’s diet.”
Children’s characters are currently banned from marketing food products, but the new regulations would allow greater opportunities for healthier foods to be advertised to children in this way.
Recent research from Ofcom showed that last year, 96 per cent of 12- to 15 year-olds spent more time online than watching TV.
Alex Neill, director of policy and campaigns at Which?, said: “A fundamental review of the rules governing how foods high in sugar, fat and salt are marketed to children up to 16 years of age is long overdue.
“New rules to cover how unhealthy products are marketed to children on social media and packaging, in line with TV advertising, will be vital to tackling childhood obesity”