UK told to tighten non-broadcast food laws

Ten groups, including the British Heart Foundation and the National Union of Teachers, have written to the British government urging it to tighten the governing of non-broadcast food adverts to children.

In their letter to Caroline Flint, the Health Minister, the protesting groups said that the Committee on Advertising Practice (CAP) rules were not consistent with the rules governing TV adverts and did not do enough to protect children from food companies that use text messaging, the internet and online games to target them. The British Heart Foundation said this was "unprincipled and unacceptable."

CAP recently published a revised code for advertisements which expands the initial broadcast code for advertising foods to children as devised by Ofcom, the government communications regulator.

CAP noted advertisements for food or soft drink products should not condone or encourage poor nutritional habits or an unhealthy lifestyle in children, encourage excessive consumption of food or drink products, use promotional offers in an irresponsible way, use "high pressure" or "hard sell" techniques, use licensed characters or celebrities popular with children if targeted directly at pre-school or primary school children or give a misleading impression of the nutritional health benefits of the product.

The consumer group Which? agreed the CAP restrictions fell well short of the mark in addressing the issue of childhood obesity and diet-related diseases. It said loopholes in the CAP rules will allow food companies to continue to advertise in non-broadcast media as before. A spokesperson for the Food and Drink Federation said he was staggered the new rules were being attacked before they had been given a chance to work.

Ofcom's rules on TV advertising of foods high in fat, sugar and salt came into effect at the beginning of April and bar such foods from being advertised during or around TV programmes made for children or those which would particularly appeal to 7-9 year olds. Restrictions are due to be extended to TV programmes of interest to children up to 15 years, with an outright ban on promoting junk foods on dedicated children's channels.

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