Children watching fewer TV adverts for less healthy foods, review finds

17 December 2008

17 December 2008

Ofcom estimates that the amount of TV advertising for less healthy foods seen by children has dropped by a third since the introduction of the first phase of restrictions in 2005. This is the key finding in Ofcom's interim review of the effects of restrictions on the TV advertising of food and drink products that are high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) published today.

In response to concerns about child obesity, Ofcom began phasing in restrictions on the advertising of HFSS products on 1 April 2007, when HFSS adverts were banned from children's programming on most channels, and progressively reduced on children's channels.

The review shows that, over the review period, the amount of HFSS advertising seen by children fell by an estimated 34%.

Further reductions are likely with the implementation of the final phase of restrictions on 1 January 2009, when all remaining HFSS advertising on children's channels will be removed.

The main findings of the review

  • The amount of HFSS advertising on TV seen by children aged 4-15 fell by an estimated 34% over the review period. For younger children, the estimated reduction was greater, at 39%; for older children, slightly less, at 28%. The ban on HFSS advertising during children's programming was the main reason for this reduction.
  • Much of the HFSS advertising seen by children is broadcast between 6pm and 9pm, however the amount they saw in this period fell by an estimated 29%. There were also reductions in the amount of HFSS advertising seen by children aged 4-15 at all other times of the day.
  • Children are seeing less food and drink advertising using licensed characters such as cartoon and film characters (-69%). They are also seeing fewer adverts with brand equity characters (-36%), free gifts (-36%) and health claims (-18%), but more with celebrities (22%). This includes adverts featuring celebrities likely to appeal mainly to adults.

Ofcom's review also shows that, based on the available data, children's channels saw a decline in food and drink advertising revenue but that this has been more than offset by a growth in advertising revenue overall.

The main commercial channels (ITV1, GMTV, Channel 4 and Five) saw an overall reduction in advertising revenues and a 6% decline in food and drink advertising revenue. Most other digital commercial channels increased their revenue from food and drink advertising.

Next steps

  • Under transitional arrangements, children's channels have been allowed to include a progressively declining amount of HFSS advertising in their schedules between April 2007 and December 2008. This will end on January 2009, when the final phase of advertising restrictions will be implemented. From that date, children's channels will be required to remove all HFSS advertising from their schedules throughout the day.
  • Ofcom intends to carry out a review of the full effect of advertising restrictions in early 2010, using full-year data from both 2008 and 2009.

See Related Items for the full statement.



1. The review period compares children's estimated exposure to HFSS advertising during 2005 (the last year for which Ofcom had full data before it implemented the restrictions), with the 12 month period between July 2007 and June 2008 (the most recent 12 month period for which full data is available). In the absence of definitive data on how much food and drink advertising there was for HFSS products in 2005, the assessment of changes in the review is based on the best available estimates. Section 3 of the review explains in detail how these were derived.

2. HFSS foods are products defined by the Food Standards Agency's nutrient profiling scheme as being high in fat or salt or sugar. The nutrient profiling scheme was provided by the FSA to Ofcom in late 2005, and applied to the advertising of food and drink products from the start of Ofcom's restrictions.