The Government launched a consultation proposing options for further restrictions on advertising of high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) products to children on TV and online. The consultation is open until 10 June 2019.

The proposed scope of restrictions covers products within the PHE sugars and calorie reduction programmes and soft drink industry levy, which also fail the current (2004/5) UK nutrient profiling model. This is the same product scope as for the DHSC Promotions consultation.

Multiple options are proposed for both TV and online advertising, which are summarised later in this document and include a 9pm watershed for ‘HFSS’ advertisements on both TV and online. None of the options for TV include changes to audience indexing or alternative advertisement scheduling. Although no lead option is recommended, given the focus of the Impact Assessment and comments by Steve Brine today, it seems clear implementing the watershed is the government’s preferred outcome. 

Response submitted

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FDF response

Executive summary

Food and drink manufacturers support the Government's goal to reduce childhood obesity. We accept our responsibility to play a part in that goal being reached and have consistently demonstrated this commitment by making substantial investments.

FDF members’ voluntary action, reformulating products and offering appropriate portion sizes, is delivering substantial changes. Over the last 5 years, the average shopping basket of our members’ products is lower in1

  • Calories by 11.8%
  • Sugars by 13.1%
  • Total fat by 11.5%
  • Saturated fat by 9.5%
  • Salt by 13.5%

However, as previously indicated in our consultation response on restricting promotions, our proven commitment to support the policy goal does not mean that we will support any policy intervention. Nor will we support poorly evidenced, ineffective or unworkable policies.

We are concerned that this consultation, along with others that emanate from the Childhood Obesity Plan Chapter 2, has a pre-determined outcome regardless of any written response. A 9pm watershed for TV and internet has already been specifically mentioned in the Childhood Obesity Plan Chapter 2.

A 9pm restriction would signal a fundamental shift in policy that for the first time puts a time-based restriction in place without consideration of the audience. Most adult viewing takes place before 9pm (the overwhelming majority of viewers pre 9pm are adult), meaning any restriction on high fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) advertising before this time would mainly impede the ability of food and drink manufacturers to market their products to adult consumers.

Our members use advertising responsibly, and have extremely high levels of compliance with the UK advertising codes, some of the strictest codes in the world. We have not seen any evidence to suggest further restrictions will make a difference in reducing childhood obesity, and fundamentally oppose the Government proposals for the following reasons:

  • There are already strictly enforced advertising rules for children on both TV and in non-broadcast media. There are also additional content rules for HFSS adverts which ban the use of celebrities and licensed characters of appeal to children. Through the independent regulator, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the advertising codes are already regularly updated to ensure the current evidence base is reflected.
  • Restrictions will predominantly affect adult viewing time. While the proposal seeks to reduce childhood obesity, the restrictions will disproportionately impact adult viewers and adult-directed food products – restricting 20 adult impacts for every 1 child2. Advertising food and drink to adults is a fundamental commercial freedom. It underpins the healthy, vibrant and innovative market for food and drink that shoppers enjoy.
  • There is both a very limited evidence base for these proposals and a limited predicted positive benefit. The impact assessment3 predicts only a 2-calorie daily reduction in children’s diets from the most severe restrictions (2100 - 0530 watershed for both TV and online). This is minimal and will make no appreciable impact in addressing the 140 - 500 calorie imbalance (per day) that PHE state prevails amongst overweight/obese children4
  • The proposals significantly limit the scope for advertising reformulated and / or small portioned products. This will restrict the ability of businesses to bring these products to market successfully. The ability to shift the portfolio of sales to reduce sugars and calories of products is a recognised mechanism by PHE within its reformulation programmes. Limiting this mechanism will pose a real threat to the success of these programmes.
  • Significant reformulation progress has been achieved by companies but in some cases, even where they have managed to achieve the PHE sugar reduction guidelines, their products still fail the nutrient profiling model. The proposals therefore do not fulfil the Government objective of this policy to encourage reformulation. The model also does not recognise portion size reduction, another key element of the Government’s sugar and calorie reduction work. Far from rewarding reformulation, this policy will penalise it.
  • The proposals are complex and will be arduous to implement, both in identifying the products in scope and practically implementing the rules, including which media channels are used. This could have a detrimental effect on the industry, particularly SMEs.
  • The Impact Assessment supporting the proposed policy is flawed as it is based on out of date exposure data, which does not take into account the impact of the HFSS ban in children’s non-broadcast media introduced in 2017. It also makes assumptions that underestimates the financial impact on advertisers. In addition, the benefits analysis is based only on a single study which includes small samples and wide confidence internals.
  • The cumulative effect of Government policies (including on sugars, calories, plastics and price promotions) alongside the uncertainties surrounding the UK leaving the EU, is taking its toll and we are already seeing food prices increase as a result.


1. Kantar Worldpanel data for FDF members (2019).

2. Based on BARB data, there are 87bn adult food impressions during the restricted period annually outside of programming that is already regulated by BCAP. According to ASA, around 63.7% of these are for HFSS products (translating to 55.8bn adult HFSS impressions). Comparing this to the 2.7bn child HFSS impression claimed by the IA gives us a ratio of 20.67 to 1.

3. DCMS Impact Assessment (2019).

4. PHE (2018). Calorie reduction: The scope and ambition for action.