UK Restricts Fast-Food Ads; U.S. Urged to Do Same

June 24, 2021
The United Kingdom is about to enact strict regulations on junk food advertising to children, and a research group is urging the United States to follow suit.

The United Kingdom is about to enact strict regulations on junk food advertising to children, and a research group is urging the United States to follow suit.

The British regulations, which will go into effect at the end of 2022, will forbid TV advertising before 9 p.m. for foods high in sugar, salt and fat. There are some exceptions for foods that are deemed not to contribute to childhood obesity, such as honey, olive oil and avocados. The British advertising industry is bitterly opposed, while the head of the British Heart Foundation told the BBC, "These plans are a bold and very positive step forward in protecting children from being inundated with junk food advertising.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had originally opposed the regulations, but had a change of heart after he was hospitalized with COVID and realized that his own obesity might have contributed to his suffering. According to the National Health Service, more than 60% of the adult British population is overweight or obese.

Meanwhile, researchers from the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity have published a study showing that the fast-food industry increased its ad spending 9% between 2012 and 2019, and that children were seeing an average of 2.4 fast-food ads per day.

Researchers were especially concerned over the impact on minority children. Spending on Spanish-language advertisements increased 33% from 2012 to 2019. In addition, Black children saw 75% more fast-food ads than white ones in 2019, compared with 60% more in 2012.

McDonald’s and Burger King adhere to the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), which requires that participating companies advertise only healthier products on TV programming directed to children under 12. However, the study found flaws with that approach, principally that most fast-food chains don’t participate in CFBAI, and that nine out of 10 fast-food ads that children see appear on programming, and advertise products, not intended for children.

The researchers called on more restaurants to join CFBAI and for its standards to improve; on media companies to restrict junk-food ads to children (as Disney already does); and on government to enact nutritional standards for children’s meals and to limit fast-food availability near schools and other youth-oriented locations.

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