Part of the Urban Food Policy Snapshot Series
Policy name: Children’s Commercial Communications Code
Location: The Republic of Ireland
Population: 4.595 million
Food policy category: Diet and nutrition
- To ensure children are protected from inappropriate and/or harmful commercial communications, including advertising, sponsorship and product placement.
- To ensure that commercial communications do not exploit children.
- To ensure that commercial communications do not mislead children about products or services by creating unrealistic expectations about those products or services.
The part of the Children’s Commercial Communications Code that restricts advertising of High Fat, Salt and Sugar Foods took effect in 2013.
How it works
The Children’s Commercial Communications Code, sharply limits the ability of corporations to promote less healthy food products to children. The law uses a variation of the UK Food Standards Agency’s Nutrient Profiling Model to determine what qualifies as a High Fat, Salt and Sugar food (HFSS).
The Nutrient Profiling model follows a specific formula. A food gets a score from 1 to 10 for the amount of energy (another way of measuring calories), saturated fat, sugar and sodium it has, with higher scores meaning higher amounts. The food also gets a score from 1 to 5 for its amount of fiber, protein, and fruit, vegetable and nut content.
The food’s total score is calculated by subtracting the second set of points from the first set of points. If the remaining number of points is 4 or greater, the food is classified as an HFSS food. A beverage has to earn a final score of 0 in order to not be classified as an HFSS food. The model is not applied to cheese products.
The Children’s Commercial Communications Code forbids the promotion of HFSS foods during children’s radio and television programming, which is defined as any program where over 50 percent of the audience is under 18 years old and/or where the programme is a children’s programme as commonly understood i.e. by virtue of its content, regardless of the percentage of children viewing.
If a company still wishes to broadcast advertisements for HFSS foods that target children during other programming, those advertisements cannot include celebrities or licensed characters from movies and television. They also cannot contain promotional offers, or claims about health and nutrition.
On top of the aforementioned restrictions, there are additional rules for fast food advertisements and confectionary advertisements. Fast food advertisements targeted towards children have to display an auditory or visual message that says, “should be eaten in moderation and as part of a balanced diet.” Confectionary advertisements must display an auditory or visual message that says, “snacking on sugary foods and drinks can damage teeth.” Under this law, confectionary products include candy, carbonated drinks, and cereal bars.
The law also states that any food commercials, no matter the product being promoted, are forbidden from making misleading claims about the nutritional quality of the food. They also cannot imply that a food product can replace or serve as a substitute for fruits and vegetables.
Progress to date
The Minister of Agriculture and the vice chairperson of Safefood, an Irish organization that promotes good nutrition, both expressed support for the regulations.
The law will be reviewed in 2017.
In 2015, the Department of Health established a working group to develop codes of practice intended to restrict the promotion of HFSS foods in non-broadcast media. It is anticipated that the rules will come into effect in 2017.
Why the program is important
Research has shown that food marketing is likely one of the main causes of high rates of childhood obesity. This study found that children were significantly more likely to choose a food item when they had seen an advertisement for it, compared for children who did not see the advertisement.
Another study found that overweight and obese children recognized significantly more food brands than lean children did. And an analysis of survey data and television advertising data in the U.S. concluded that children who see more fast food advertising are likely to consume more fast food and soft drinks than children with lower exposure.
Finally, a mathematical simulation based on other research that has connected advertising to children’s eating habits concluded that completely banning food advertising would significantly reduce childhood obesity rates.
These are just some examples of the many studies that have been done linking food advertising to children’s eating habits and childhood obesity.
- The Irish Heart Foundation has argued that the Children’s Commercial Communications Code restrictions do not go far enough. They say all advertising of HFSS should be banned between 6 and 9pm, the most popular time for Irish children to watch TV.
- One study found that over 22 percent of advertisements shown during prime time television programs were for food, and much of the food advertised is unhealthy.
- A study conducted one year after the regulations went into effect found that Irish children still recognized unhealthy brands of food much more easily than healthy brands.
Point of contact
- Quebec enacted a ban on fast food advertising towards children in 1980. A study that examined survey data between 1984 and 1992 found that the policy led to a 13 percent reduction in the amount of money Quebec consumers spent on fast food.
- The UK enacted a similar policy regarding television advertisements in 2007 and announced in 2016 that those restrictions would expand to other media.