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.
- Child Obesity Plan Must Include Legal Action on Junk Food Advertising and Discounts, Say MPs (British Medical Journal)
- The Facts on Junk Food Marketing and Kids (Prevention Institute)
- Food Advertising and Eating Behavior in Children (Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences)
- Teens ‘Especially Vulnerable’ to Junk Food Advertising, Experts Say (ABC News)
- Boris Johnson Says ‘I Was Too Fat’ As He Launches Anti-Obesity Campaign (Washington Post)
- Food and Diet (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health)
- The Health Effects of Overweight and Obesity (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Junk Food Ads Banned Online and Before 9pm on Television (The Times)
- Obesity, Race/Ethnicity, and COVID-19 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet, England, 2020 (NHS Digital)
- UK Announces New Law to Ban ‘Junk-Food’ Advertising (Just Food)
- UK Government Plans to Ban Online Junk Food Ads (NTD UK News)
- UK Set to Bring in Strict New Junk Food Rules Including Pre-9pm Ad Ban (The Guardian)
- U.K. Unveils Junk Food Ad Ban Online to Help Curb Obesity (Bloomberg)
- The United Kingdom Will Limit the Promotion of Foods High in Fat, Sugar and Salt (Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center)
- Why a Complete Ban on ‘Junk Food’ Advertising Online Does Not Add Up (Internet Advertising Bureau UK)