Ofcom has recently announced some proposed restrictions on TV advertising of junk food to children. (This is subject to a short consultation period, but the focus of the consultation is only on whether proposals previously proposed to protect under-9s should be extended to under-16s – so it is unlikely that the consultation will result in significant change.)


Assuming all goes to plan, for normal TV, the rules will be phased in during the first half of next year, but there will be a 2-year period of grace for children’s channels (it being thought that they will have a tougher time replacing lost advertising revenue, given that there whole schedule is affected rather than just part).

It will work like this:

  • Programmes are assessed to see whether they are aimed at or have a particular appeal to people under the age of 16 (i.e. watched by lots of kids – this would include nominally adult programmes like, say, Neighbours, where the audience is disproprotionately skewed towards younger viewers).
  • If a programme fits the bill, then foods that are high in fats, sugars or salt (“HFSS”) cannot be advertised or promoted with that programme.
  • For younger children, there are also going to be restrictions on using cartoon characters or celebrities to promote junk, and on making certain health claims or offering free gifts.

Whether the proposed formula for working out which programmes will have particular appeal to children is going to work, I do not know. Moreover, the proposals will not stop brand advertising as long as HFSS products are not advertised: so we could still be seeing the Golden Arches advertised on kids’ TV, just not the underlying burgers.

The definition of what food counts as “HFSS” is also thought by some to be a bit crude, in that it will ban some foods which are actually quite good for you if eaten in moderation – like marmite and (unprocessed!) cheese. Having said that, the only marmite ads I’ve ever seen have been aimed at grownups – and since when did you see an advert for unprocessed cheese aimed at children? “Kids’ cheese” is all cheez strings, BabyBel and Dairy Lea… yuck!

But, anyway, let’s not slag it off before it even gets going. This is good news and I hope like hell that nobody will throw any spanners in the works before the rules are confirmed.