Junk Food Advertising Banned to Curb Obesity in the UK

by Marissa Sheldon, MPH
junk food advertising

Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Policy name: Junk Food Advertising Ban

Overview: As part of the United Kingdom’s new Health and Care Bill, junk food advertising will be banned online and before 9pm on television. 

Location: United Kingdom

Population: 68.2 million

Food policy category: Nutrition, Obesity prevention

Program goals: To reduce obesity.

How it works: All advertising of junk food high in salt, sugar and fat will be banned online and may not be shown on television until after 9pm, when children are less likely to be watching. Restaurants will no longer be able to show pictures of unhealthy foods online or on social media, including “British favorites” like fish and chips or a full English breakfast.  An explicit definition of “junk food” does not appear to be publicly available. 

Restaurants and chains with more than 250 employees will also be required to display calorie counts on menus. 

Progress to date: The ban was announced on March 11, 2021. 

Why it is important: In 2018, 26 percent of men, 29 percent of women, and 20 percent of six-year-olds in the UK were classified as obese. The UK has been much more focused on obesity reduction and prevention since Prime Minister Boris Johnson contracted COVID-19 in 2020, which he attributes to his increased susceptibility due to his weight. 

Obesity is linked not only to a higher risk of COVID-19, but also to several chronic conditions including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and many types of cancer. 

While there are many causes of obesity, including genetics and sociodemographic status, an unhealthy diet that is high in sugar, fat, and processed foods is a common contributor.  

The UK government wants to stop promoting unhealthy foods in order to keep the population healthy. 

Program/Policy initiated: It is unclear when the advertising ban will go into effect. 

Point of contact: N/A

Similar practices: The UK has also banned promotional deals of foods high in salt, sugar and fat, going into effect in April 2022. 

Evaluation: No formal evaluation has yet been conducted; however, critics argue that the ban may put restaurants’ businesses in danger and that the effect on children’s calorie intake – which is  projected to be fewer than three calories per day – does not warrant a full ban on advertising. 

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