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Junk food advertisers 'using legal loopholes' to target children

Monday, December 1st 2014 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

Marketers are using loopholes in the law to advertise junk food to children, the British Heart Foundation has claimed.

Maura Gillespie, the charity’s interim programme director for policy, called on the government to ban junk food adverts being shown before 9pm and to introduce tighter restrictions online.

She was responding to an Ofcom report which found that children aged 11-15 were spending over seven hours a day on media and communications activity.

“Encouraging children to be physically active and eat a healthy diet is vital if we want to protect them from developing heart disease in later life,” she said.

“This report highlights the worrying reality that young people are spending a significant amount of time being inactive, glued to electronic devices.

“Marketers know this, and are using loopholes in the law to advertise junk food to children.

“The need to address this is urgent. That’s why the UK government must introduce tighter restrictions online and ban junk food marketing before 9pm to stop marketers targeting children.”

A Youth Sport Trust spokesperson said it was vital that all young people participate in regular high quality physical activity.

“When delivered correctly, physical education helps to develop basic movement skills, which we term physical literacy,” they said.

“This is crucial for improving health, supporting emotional and social development and boosting academic attainment.

“With the rising inactivity and obesity crisis we are facing, high quality physical education and physical activity have never been more important.”

Government schemes including Change4Life and the Public Health Responsibility Deal are aimed at promoting a healthy, active lifestyle.

A spokesperson for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said: “There is already a total ban on junk food advertising in and around all children's programming and on children's channels.

“We’re keeping this area under review - advertising is just one aspect in determining children's eating habits, and the current rules are just one part of a package aimed at tackling childhood obesity.”

Matt Wilson of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said strict food advertising rules are designed to include restrictions proportionate to the role that advertising may play in childhood obesity.

“If we see evidence that suggests the rules need to go further then we will not hesitate to take action,” he added.

“It’s clear that we have to be vigilant of and responsive to the radical changes in the media landscape that have prompted a shift in the media habits of children.”

The ASA’s sister organisation, the Committee of Advertising Practice, is conducting a comprehensive literature review of the impact of digital and online marketing of food and soft drink products to children.

“We’re also undertaking a proactive monitoring survey of food ads, with a focus online, to assess whether there are any problem areas,” said Mr Wilson.

“This work all fits into our ongoing commitment to ensuring children are protected from inappropriate or harmful content.”

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