Ben HaywardNovember 11th

The government has revealed it is planning to implement a complete ban on online ‘junk food’ advertising in an attempt to tackle the country’s obesity crisis.

If implemented in their current form - subject to a six-week consultation period - the ban would represent the harshest digital marketing restrictions in the world, reports the Guardian.

Although health campaigners have welcomed the proposed ban, the advertising industry is reported to be ‘stunned’ by the proposals which it has labelled as ‘indiscriminate and draconian’.

The new regulations would go much further than proposals that were originally outlined over the summer and would affect foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar. 

However, it is feared that a wide range of foods, including avocados, marmite, jam and cream, could be caught up in the rules alongside  what is termed as more traditional ‘junk foods’.

Revealing the plans, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “I am determined to help parents, children and families in the UK make healthier choices about what they eat. 

“We know children spend more time online. Parents want to be reassured they are not being exposed to adverts promoting unhealthy foods, which can affect habits for life.”

The new, harsher, rules have been developed following Boris Johnson’s brush with Covid-19 in April.

The Prime Minister is said to have changed his view on personal health decisions after it emerged that overweight people are at greater risk of both developing severe illness and dying if they catch the coronavirus. 

Damning research has found that in England roughly one in three children are overweight or obese when they leave primary school, rising two two-thirds in adults.

A study also found that children under 16 were exposed to an estimated  15 billion junk food adverts online in 2019, compared with an estimated 700 million in 2017.

If implemented, the ban will affect all forms of digital marketing including Facebook, paid-search results on Google, text message promotions, and social media activity on Twitter and Instagram.

Fran Bernhardt, coordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign, said: “This would be a world-leading policy to improve children’s health. Online adverts have cast unhealthy food in the starring role for far too long. The current regulations are inadequate to protect children. Companies advertising healthier foods have nothing to fear.”

At first, any breaches will be dealt with by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) with ads that break the new rules liable to be banned.

In a statement on behalf of the UK advertising industry, Stephen Woodford, chief executive of the Advertising Association, said: “If this policy of an outright ban goes ahead, it will deal a huge blow to UK advertising at a time where it is reeling from the impact of Covid-19.

“To borrow the prime minister’s language, this is not an ‘oven ready’ policy, it is not even half-baked. But it does have all the ingredients of a kick in the teeth for our industry from a government which we believed was interested in prioritising economic growth, alongside targeted interventions to support health and wellbeing.”

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