Adverts online for all fatty foods could be banned, under government plans to tackle obesity.
A new consultation from the Department of Health and Social Care will run for six weeks to try and understand the impact of introducing a total ban on advertising junk food online.
Research has found one in three children leave primary school overweight, or obese, and almost two-thirds of adults in England are overweight or living with obesity.
It came following a report by researchers at the NYU School of Global Public Health and published in the US journal Pediatrics, which found that nearly half of the most popular videos from kid influencers (42.8 per cent) promoted food and drinks, of which 90 per cent were unhealthy branded food, drinks, or fast food toys.
There are rules against advertisers targeting children with products that are high in fats, sugar or salt (HFSS) in the UK, including that such adverts cannot be shown after the 9pmn watershed.
Despite this children are exposed to 15 billion adverts for HFSS every year, the Government consultation said.
Breaches are dealt with by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) who found that between April and June there was HFSS advertising on 49 per cent of children’s websites and 71 per cent of YouTube channels aimed at children with twenty-nine different HFSS advertisers responsible.
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 as children spend more time online, parents want to be reassured they are not being exposed to adverts promoting unhealthy foods, which can affect eating habits for life.
“This will be a world-leading measure to tackle the obesity challenges we face now but it will also address a problem that will only become more prominent in the future.”
The move was welcomed by the Obesity Health Alliance (OHA) and the British Heart Foundation (BHF).
Caroline Cerny, from OHA, said: “Junk food advertising works – it can successfully influence our day-to-day choices.
“That’s why food companies spend hundreds of thousands every year, to ensure that their unhealthy products remain in the spotlight.”
Jacob West from BHF added: “Ending the constant flood of online junk food advertising would be a big step forward in protecting everyone’s health, particularly children.
“This must be implemented swiftly alongside a 9pm junk food marketing watershed on TV and a comprehensive set of other measures to create a healthy environment.”
However, plans have been criticised by campaigners, and the Food and Drink Federation said it “beggars belief” the industry had only been given six weeks to respond.
Head of UK diet and health policy Kate Halliwell said: “It could not come at a worse time for food and drink manufacturers – the industry is preparing for its busiest time of the year and working flat out to keep the nation fed through lockdown, all while facing down the very real threat of a no-deal Brexit.”
Advertising campaigners said the plans would also deal a “huge blow” to a sector already dealing with the impact of Covid-19.
In a joint statement, the leaders of the Advertising Association, the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising and the Internet Advertising Bureau UK said: “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.”