HomeSafetyJunk food, the British government proposes a ban on online advertising

Junk food, the British government proposes a ban on online advertising

The British government decides to introduce a ban on advertising online di junk food, or junk food, to address the problem of obesity, overweight and related diseases in minors. A revolutionary proposal, now subject to public consultation.

Food products with excessive levels of fat, sugar and salt (High in Fats, Sugar and Sodium, HFSS) must be excluded from the marketing su social networks, advergamers and theinfluence marketing aimed at children and adolescents. In Europe and Italy, however, no protection.

Marketing predatory and neuroprogramming

Il marketing predatory di Big food negatively affects the food consumption of young people, such as they recently denounced also UNICEF and WHO. TV, websites e social networks they bombard their prey with free-to-air advertisements and covert advertising, above all means influencers, bloggers, vloggers.

The strategies di neuromarketing they are effective in two aspects that go beyond the sales objective of the specific product:

- increase the quantities of food ingested immediately after exposure to advertising. By stimulating the consumption between meals of fickle and unbalanced products from a nutritional point of view (eg. Coca-Cola, Nutella,

- alter food preferences, thanks topairing of junk food to (false) positive emotions and situations. And to hammering. In this way a neuroprogramming is realized, all the more effective towards the little ones, as demonstrated in specific studies. (1)

UK, public consultations and nutrition policies

In March-June 2019 Theresa May's executive had carried out an initial consultation on television advertising restrictions e online to limit children's exposure to HFSS food advertisements. (2) Since 72% and 70% of the participants had declared themselves in favor of the ban on advertising of junk food before 21 pm - respectively, on tv and on websites - in June 2019 the government introduced these measures.

the 10.11.2020 Boris Johnson's government has launched a new consultation as part of the nutritional strategy. (3) With a view to going further by banning all advertisements online of junk food. With particular regard to HFSS foods aimed at minors who - as the European Commission has ascertained in a specific study (Joint Research Center, JRC, 2019), without however do nothing - dominates the overall offer. (4)

UK, nutritional strategy

The UK, as seen, began addressing the epidemic of childhood obesity and overweight by adopting a system for measuring the anthropometric data of all children in the first and last year of elementary school. With the aim of collecting the qualitative and quantitative data necessary for an appropriate assessment of public health risks (Non-Communicable Diseases, NCD) associated with obesity and overweight.

The strategy risk prevention and mitigation is structured as follows:

- junk food. Drastically restrict advertising and distribution in certain places (according to the examples of India e Mexico). Encourage food reformulation (such as already done with the soda tax) and the reduction of portions,

- education and assistance. Nutrition education policies, such as the new campaign 'better health'(and as Italy had promised to do, with the State-Regions agreement 17.1.19 devoid of any sequel) and promotion of physical exercise. (4) Introduction of the energy value (kcal) on the labels of alcoholic beverages. Weight management services, dietary advice and guidance on reading food labels.

Prohibit advertisements online di junk food. Why?

'We are already committed to limit HFSS announcements on television before 21:00. But we also need to go further and address how children can be influenced online, where they spend more and more time. (…) We want to support people of all ages to make healthier choices. ' (Jo Churchill, Minister of Public Health, UK)

The elapsed time online by children aged 5-15 it is constantly increasing. From 2010 to 2017 there was a 450% increase in advertising spending on websites of food and drink and minors are exposed to over £ 15 billion of advertising every year online di junk food. With a number of views in continuous growth (+ 3,4% the 2020 estimate on 2019). Evidently, that exposure has worsened even more with COVID-19.

Prohibit advertisements junk foods would help protect children from developing unhealthy eating habits. Not only that obesity is associated with a reduction in life expectancy and is a risk factor for a number of chronic diseases. But also because there would be some evidence that people who are overweight or obese are more at risk of becoming seriously ill or even dying from COVID-19.

HFSS foods, advertising ban

Restrictions proposed by the London government apply to online advertising of HFSS foods directed at consumers. With prohibition of:

Email promotional,

- messaging,

- activity of marketing in unpaid spaces, for example on sites websites e social media, where the operator of marketing has editorial and / or financial control over the contents,

- advertising banners and video ads,

- viral advertisements, with content created by the operator of marketing or by third parties paid by it or who in any case act under its editorial control, in order to collect follow-up,

- paid advertising on the channels of social media. Native content, an influenceretc.,

- advertising inapp o app intended for advertising,


Possible exclusions instead concern:

- B2B communication (business-to-business),

- factual information on products and / or services (e.g. product names, nutritional information, ingredients),

- sales platforms online (sites, channels socialapp), as well as Email, messages or notifications push directed to consumers who have chosen to subscribe to this type of communication. (6) The most delicate aspect.


A public authority it will be in charge of regulating the prohibitions and checking the effective compliance with the new rules. Such an entity should take effective action against advertisers who violate the rules, especially in cases of serious or repeated violations.

The responsability daily enforcement of rules, handling complaints, providing guidelines and training to operators should remain the responsibility of the SAA (Advertising Standards Authority), a self-control body equivalent to the Advertising Self-Regulatory Institute (IAP) in Italy.

The managers of sites e social networks they will be responsible for compliance with the prohibitions, also taking into account the level of control over advertising and the procedures adopted to guarantee compliance with the rules.

Covid-19 and obesity emergency. No hope?

Excess weight is one of causes of comorbidities which exposes people to a greater risk of serious complications and deaths as a result of contagion from Covid-19. And this risk increases dramatically as body mass index increases (Body Mass Index, BMI). The report 'Excess weight and COVID-19: insights from new evidence'shows an almost triple prevalence of obese people compared to the general population (8% vs 2,9%) among patients with COVID-19 in intensive care units. (5)

The risk of gaining weight and losing health during the pandemic that has now been going on for 8 months is exacerbated by lockdown and other containment measures that reduce the opportunities for physical exercise, even moderate, and increase connection times on the web for work and leisure. The British government is showing responsible pragmatism while the EU continues to do nothing to protect minors from the storm of advertising, including covert advertising, of junk food and alcoholic beverages.

All Hope is lost, in eddies of LOBBY?

Dario Dongo and Giulia Torre


(1) Anna Elizabeth Coates, Charlotte Alice Hardman, Jason Christian Grovenor Halford, Paul Christiansen, Emma Jane Boyland (2019). The effect of influencer marketing of food and a "protective" advertising disclosure on children's food intake. Pediatric Obesity

(2) Foods rich in fat, sugar, salt (HFSS) also include foods that do not fall within the widespread concept of 'junk food'. Such as raisins, sultanas, fruit in syrup, sugary yoghurts, etc. See

(3) UK Government. New public consultation on total ban of online advertising for unhealthy foods. Press release 10.11.20,

(4) The importance of physical activity in combating obesity has already been the subject of a specific strategy in the UK in 2015.

(5) J.Blackshaw et al. (2020). Excess weight and COVID-19: insights from new evidence. Public Health England  

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