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De-Junking Unhealthy Ads

By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD

In an attempt to address the problem of childhood obesity, at the end of 2006, the regulator for TV advertising in the UK – Ofcom – came up with some new rules to help stop the advertising of junk food being promoted to children.

Products that are high in fat, salt and sugar won’t be allowed to be advertised on TV in and around programmes that appeal to children under the age of 16. The restrictions apply to programmes broadcast at any time of day or night on any channel.

This means all adverts will be banned in and around children’s programming and on dedicated children’s channels, but also in youth-orientated and adult programmes that attract a lot of children under the age of 16, for example, The X Factor.

But that’s not all, the Ofcom report has also introduced new rules that ban the use of celebrities and characters (such as cartoons) in advertising targeted at primary school children. Plus free gifts and health or nutrition claims won’t be allowed to be made in TV adverts targeted at this age group.

To decide whether products are high in fat, salt and sugar, Ofcom will be using a Nutrient Profiling Scheme, developed by the Food Standards Agency specifically for this purpose. This is a relatively complicated scoring system that looks at the calories, saturates, sugar, salt, protein and fibre content of a food, as well as whether it contains any fruit and veg.

Any new advertising campaigns commissioned after the end of January will need to comply with the new rules. However, any campaigns that are already underway before this deadline will be able to run until the end of June. For children’s channels though, restrictions will be gradually phased in over a two-year period to allow more time to find other advertisers.

WLR says…

It’s great that new advertising rules have been put in place as Ofcom research has proven that TV advertising has a direct effect on children’s food preferences.

Many parents and health organisations, fear that Ofcom haven’t been as tough as they should have been.

To start with, many – including the Food Standards Agency – wanted a 9pm watershed so that products high in fat, salt and sugar couldn’t be advertised on TV before this time.

The new rules also only apply to individual products, so companies that predominantly sell products that are high in fat, salt and sugar, such as fast food chains, will still be able to advertise their brand. Plus, they may be able to advertise some products if they score below the cut off point as dictated by the Nutrient Profiling Scheme. This means McDonald’s, for example, will still be able to advertise as a brand during children’s programmes – and advertise a range of products such as Chicken McNuggets, Hamburgers and Fries, which all score as being acceptable foods according to the Nutrient Profiling Scheme. However, products such as a Cheeseburger or QuarterPounder with Cheese won’t be allowed to be advertised during children’s programmes.

If you struggle to steer your kids away from junk food – regardless of whether they see products advertised – try these tricks…

  • Use low-fat versions of favourite foods such as burgers and sausages and always grill rather than fry them.
  • Buy reduced-fat crisps or provide lower-fat snacks such as air-blown popcorn.
  • Swap fried chips for lower-fat oven chips or potato wedges.
  • Make your own pizzas, chicken nuggets, burgers, fish fingers and fish cakes – that way you can control the fat and salt content and guarantee they’re free from additives.
  • Buy diet or sugar-free varieties of soft drinks and squashes. If kids are resistant simply transfer them into empty regular bottles – they’ll never know.
  • Avoid buying juice drinks (most are loaded with sugar) and instead opt for pure fruit juices.
  • Encourage your child to try cereals that are still aimed at them but contain less sugar such as Ready Brek or Shreddies.
  • Ditch the salt pot from the table so your child can’t add salt to anything.
  • Use mild, reduced-fat Cheddar or reduced-fat cream cheese in sandwiches or on crackers instead of processed cheese spread.
  • Choose reduced-sugar baked beans and tomato ketchup.
  • Fill sandwiches with fresh chicken breast or lean, good quality ham rather than processed meats.
  • Avoid buying chocolates and sweets – if they’re not in the house, children won’t have access to them.
  • Instead of opting for fast food when you’re out as a family, have a change of scenery and choose a place where you can get a sandwich, jacket potato or plate of pasta.

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More Information

Find out more about the new Ofcom rules at www.ofcom.org.uk/media/mofaq/bdc/foodadsfaq and for details of the Nutrient profiling Scheme, visit www.food.gov.uk

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