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Around half of TV adverts for food and drink seen by children are for foods and drinks high in fat, salt or sugar or for fast food restaurants

Since 2007 it has not been permitted to advertise food and drink that is high in fat, salt or sugar during children’s television programmes.  Evidence from Ofcom suggests that in 2016 children spent 64% of their viewing time watching programmes outside children’s programming.

Recent discussion around the possibility of a second wave of the Government’s childhood obesity strategy has included calls from health campaigners and leaders of all the main opposition parties to extend current restrictions on when food and drink products that are high in fat, salt or sugar can be advertised to cover all pre-watershed advertising.

In a new briefing note, IFS researchers show that half of the television advertising for food and drink that children saw in 2015 was for products that are high in fat, sugar or salt or for restaurants and bars (the majority of which are fast food outlets), and that a large portion of this advertising takes place prior to the watershed.

Key findings include:

  • In 2015, 87% of the television advertising for food and drinks seen by children (4-15) was during non-children’s programming.
  • 50% of the television advertising for food and drink that children saw was for food and drink that is high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) or was for restaurants and bars. 39% of this was for HFSS food and drink products and 11% was for restaurants and bars, the majority of which are fast food outlets.
  • Of the television advertising that was for HFSS food and drink products or restaurants and bars, 70% of the advertising took place prior to the 9pm watershed. Extending restrictions to cover pre watershed programming would have affected advertising of products high in fat, salt and sugar. Adverts for restaurants and bars would be restricted if they featured products high in fat, salt and sugar.

Rebekah Stroud, a Research Economist at IFS and co-author of the briefing note, said:

“Current restrictions ban the advertising of food and drink high in fat, salt and sugar during children’s programming. However, a lot of the TV advertising that children see is not during children’s programming, leading to calls to extend the ban to all advertising before the watershed. In 2015, up to 35% of the TV adverts for food and drink that children saw would have been directly affected had restrictions applied before the watershed.”

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