British Plan to Shield Kids from Junk Food Ads Better than US Approach

UK Regulators to Get Junk-Food Ads off Kids' TV


While officials at the Federal Trade Commission in Washington are merely observing the debate over junk-food marketing aimed at kids, British regulators are actually doing something about it. The Office of Communications (Ofcom), the quasi-governmental agency that has statutory authority to regulate television, telecom, and other communications industries in the United Kingdom, has announced that junk-food marketers will be prohibited from advertising on programming aimed at kids under 16. Though British consumer groups wanted the agency to go even further, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says that effort is far better than the paltry voluntary self-regulatory approaches underway in the United States.

“A serious approach to childhood obesity would not allow corporations to appeal directly to children and convince them to eat foods that harm their health—period,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “The voluntary measures announced recently in the U.S. are promulgated by advertising- and food-industry groups whose main goals are to forestall serious government action and to generally make life easier for advertisers. Unfortunately the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission are also more oriented to protecting business than helping parents and protecting children.”

The Children’s Advertising Review Unit, which adjudicates complaints about children’s advertising in the U.S. notes on its web site that it works to preserve advertisers' “freedom to direct their messages to young children.” Similarly the National Advertising Review Council, CARU’s parent organization, states that its top goal is to “minimize governmental involvement in the advertising business.”

The Ofcom regulations, scheduled to be finalized in January, allow junk-food ads on adult programming. Foods advertised on children’s television will have to meet strict government nutrition criteria, including limits on sugar, salt, and saturated fat.

While the FTC, as a result of Congressional action, is preparing to formally request that companies turn over information about how they market to children, FTC Chair Deborah Majoras has been a vocal cheerleader for industry self-regulation and had previously said the agency would not consider restricting junk-food advertising on children’s television.

“No matter what metrics are applied to measure it, self-regulation of food marketing aimed at children is a proven flop. But the Bush Administration’s strategy is just to clap louder and hope that it helps,” Jacobson said.

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Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at] or Ariana Stone (astone[at]