Leading health organisations are urging the Government to go ahead with a total restriction on junk food adverts online, after a new analysis has revealed the potential health benefits for children.
Analysis by the Obesity Health Alliance (OHA) found ending online advertising for unhealthy products such as sweets, crisps and pizza could benefit the UK’s children by removing the equivalent of 88 skips of doughnuts or 183 wheelie bins full of chocolate biscuits from their diets every week.
According to the Department of Health and Social Care, restricting online adverts for food and drink products that are both high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) and also contribute to children’s excess sugar and calorie intake, could lead to UK children (aged 4-15) eating 12.5 billion FEWER calories a year. That’s equivalent to removing the following from children’s diets:
- 62 million doughnuts a year (1.2million each week), or
- 150 million chocolate biscuits a year (2.8 million each week), or
- 41 million cheeseburgers a year (798K each week)
In 2020 the Government confirmed plans to introduce a 9pm watershed on HFSS adverts on TV and held a consultation on their proposal to go further online with a complete restriction on HFSS adverts. This move is due to concern about the huge number of junk food adverts children see on TV and online and the impact this has on what they eat.
Seeing just one minute of unhealthy food advertising can lead to children eating an additional 14.2 calories. These prompts, that can lead to eating just a little bit extra every day, can easily lead to excess weight in children – as it can take as little as 46 additional calories every day to put on weight.
Caroline Cerny, Alliance Lead said, “Whether they are scrolling social media, following their favourite influencers or simply researching their homework, children can’t escape the endless and creative adverts and endorsements for junk food. If the Government is at all serious about addressing obesity, it must take unhealthy food out of the spotlight and introduce regulation so only healthier food adverts can be shown. Failing to tackle online advertising will hugely undermine other measures to protect children from marketing.”
John Maingay, Director of Policy at the British Heart Foundation said, “Sadly, children who live with obesity are more likely to become adults with obesity, increasing their risk of a heart attack or stroke. This striking analysis shows children’s health stands to substantially benefit from a restriction on online junk food advertising. The Government must fully embrace this measure to give children the healthiest start in life.”
Dev Sharma, BiteBack2030 youth board member said, “It’s not right that I get more text messages from takeaway companies than I do from my Grandma. As a 16-year-old I use social media a lot and it feels like these companies are deliberately targeting me and my friends.”
The Government proposals are part of their strategy to reduce high levels of obesity in the UK. Currently one in three children have a weight classed as overweight or obese when they leave primary school. The majority of adults (60% of women and 67% of men) have a weight classed as overweight or obese. The causes of obesity are complex, but it is clear that the environment we live in plays a huge role.
- The analysis is based on the total number of calories removed from the diets of all children, according the Department of Health and Social Care evidence note9. The calculations are based on the area of the doughnut.
|Children in population||9,400,000|
|Kcal reduction per year||1,329|
|Kcal reduction per year (all children)||12,492,600,000|
|Kcals per product||per year||per month||per week|
 Small builders skip = 305cm /122cm/122cm. Doughnut = 8cm/8cm/5cm
 Wheelie bin = 60cm/80cm/180cm. Biscuit = 7cm/7cm/1cm
 DCMS & DHSC (2020). Evidence note. https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/total-restriction-of-online-advertising-for-products-high-in-fat-sugar-and-salt-hfss/evidence-note
3.64 kcal per day per child, or 1,329 kcal per year per child, multiplied by 9.4m (no. of children in UK population aged 4-15)
 Glazed doughnut = 200 kcals (https://www.krispykreme.co.uk/original-glazed.html)
 Chocolate digestive biscuits = 83 kcals (https://www.tesco.com/groceries/en-GB/products/300917252?sc_cmp=ppc*GHS+-+Grocery+-+Repeat+&+DS*PX_Shopping+GSC_Actives_Generic_Top+Offers*Food+Cupboard+Top+Offers_Shopping*PRODUCT_GROUP300917252*&ds_rl=1116322&gclid=CjwKCAiAp4KCBhB6EiwAxRxbpGe2MayZDe87LuOvHCfjUIth7CEzKa9b5ReOrkff8NMgIf3dTZ2o6BoCcHcQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds
 Cheeseburger = 301 kcal (https://www.mcdonalds.com/gb/en-gb/product/cheeseburger.html)
 Russell SJ, Croker H, Viner RM. The effect of screen advertising on children’s dietary intake: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Rev. 2019 Apr;20(4):554-568. doi: 10.1111/obr.12812. Epub 2018 Dec 21
 Plachta-Danielzik S, Landsberg B, Bosy-Westphal A, Johannsen M, Lange D, Muller M. Energy gain and energy gap in normalweight children: longitudinal data of the KOPS. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2008, 16(4).