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High Fat, Sugar and Salt Advertising Consultation Response

Volume 697: debated on Thursday 24 June 2021

Today, I am pleased to announce that the Government are publishing the consultation response to both the 2019 and 2020 consultations. This outlines the final UK-wide policy on restricting high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) advertising, which we intend to legislate for in the upcoming Health and Care Bill.

Covid-19 has brought the dangers of obesity into sharp focus and highlighted that as a country we need to address the risks obesity presents. The Prime Minister has been clear that helping the nation get fitter and healthier must be a national priority and will make us more resilient to diseases in the future.

In 2018 the Government set the ambition to halve childhood obesity by 2030 and help adults reach a healthier weight. As part of a suite of measures to meet this ambition, is it important that we reduce children’s exposure to advertising for products high in fat, sugar and salt on TV and online. We want to ensure that the media our children engage with mostly promotes a healthy diet. Evidence suggests that exposure to HFSS advertising can affect what and when children eat, shaping children’s food preferences from a young age. Over time, excess consumption can lead to children becoming overweight or obese, all of which puts their future health at risk; already one in three children leaving primary school are overweight or living with obesity.

In July 2020, as part of the tackling obesity’ strategy, the Government announced their intention to implement a 9 pm watershed on TV for advertising high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS). This followed on from a consultation held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and DHSC in 2019. The Government also announced they wanted to go further online and from November to December 2020 held a public consultation on introducing a total HFSS restriction online.

Shaping the marketing to our children

We will be introducing a 9 pm watershed on TV and UK on-demand programme services (ODPS) alongside a restriction of paid-for advertising online.

The product categories in scope of the restriction have been revised since consultation to focus on those that are of most concern to childhood obesity. The healthiest products within a specific category can still be advertised and products such as butter, olive oil and condiments are out of scope. This is consistent with the approach used for the promotion restrictions on volume and location which is also part of the strategy.

The online restriction is limited to paid-for advertising and will not apply to “owned media”—those spaces online where full editorial control and ownership applies, such as a brand’s own blog, website or social media page.

The policy will have a number of exemptions to balance health benefits and impacts on business. These are as follows:

Brand advertising (online and 9 pm watershed): Provided there are no identifiable HFSS products, food and drink brands can continue to advertise. This is to ensure that brands are not pigeonholed as synonymous with HFSS products and have the freedom to reformulate and move towards offering healthier products.

Small medium enterprises (SME) (online and 9 pm watershed): Businesses with 249 employees or fewer, that pay to advertise HFSS products that they manufacture and/or sell, will be exempt from the HFSS restrictions and can continue to advertise.

Audio (online only): As the impact and levels of child exposure to HFSS advertising on audio- only media (e.g. podcasts, online only radio) remain unclear, these forms of media are not subject to restrictions.

Business to business (online only): Businesses can continue to promote their products or services to other businesses, which we hope will prevent unintended consequences of impeding business activity where commerce is not with the purpose of encouraging children’s consumption of HFSS food or drink.

Transactional content (online only): To ensure that online content for the purpose of facilitating transactions involved in buying and selling products can continue and that consumers have enough information at the point of sale/purchase.

The enforcement approach will mirror current frameworks with broadcasters and ODPS under UK jurisdiction being liable for breaches of the watershed and advertisers being liable online. Ofcom will also be appointed as the appropriate regulatory authority for these restrictions and will be able to appoint a day-to-day regulator to carry out frontline regulation. The Government expect the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to fulfil this role.

Obesity is a complex issue that will not be solved by one policy alone. This is why our strategy includes a suite of measures such as expanding weight management services and restricting promotions of HFSS products.

This is the latest measure to support individuals to improve their health and thereby reduce pressure on the NHS. I welcome Members’ support and their views on how we can support the nation to get healthier and achieve our ambition of halving childhood obesity by 2030.