Insights New rules banning ads for food and drinks high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) in children’s non-broadcast media come into effect


Tough new rules banning ads for HFSS food and drinks in children’s non-broadcast media came into effect on 1 July 2017. The rules apply to media targeted at under-16s and will mean a major reduction in the number of ads children see for HFSS products.

Following a full public consultation last year by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), and reflecting restrictions already in place on TV, the new rules apply to children’s non-broadcast media (including print, posters, cinema, online and in social media). Ads for HFSS products will no longer be allowed to appear around TV-like content online, such as video-sharing platforms, if it is directed at children.

CAP explains that the new rules come in response to changing media habits amongst young people, with research showing that youngsters aged five to 15 are spending around 15 hours each week online, overtaking time spent watching a TV set. They also respond to wider concerns in society about the public health challenges surrounding childhood obesity and what part the advertising industry can play in helping to change children’s relationship with less healthy foods.

In summary, the new rules state:

  • ads that directly or indirectly promote an HFSS product cannot appear in children’s media;
  • ads for HFSS products cannot appear in other media where children make up over 25% of the audience;
  • if the content targets under-12s, ads for HFSS products will not be allowed to use promotions, licensed characters and celebrities popular with children. Advertisers may now use those techniques to better promote healthier options; and
  • the Department of Health nutrient profiling model will be used to classify which products are HFSS.

CAP says that it recognises the multiple and complex factors, beyond advertising, that can be instrumental in childhood obesity, including parental influence, sedentary lifestyles and education. While the evidence shows that advertising has a modest effect on children’s food preferences, CAP believes the new ad restrictions will still have a positive impact in reducing harm to children.

To help advertisers and marketers comply with the new rules, CAP has launched Food and Drink Advertising to Children, a new CAP e-Learning module designed to provide marketing, advertising and compliance professionals with guidance on the key rules that apply when creating non-broadcast ads for food and soft drink products.

In addition, the module includes in-depth training on new placement and content restrictions that will be applied to HFSS products from 1 July.

The module covers:

  • background and placement: this section provides an overview of the scope of the CAP Codes, explains how HFSS foods are classified and covers the new restrictions on the placement and targeting of ads for food and soft drinks;
  • health and well-being: this section covers marketers’ responsibilities to ensure that their advertising does not cause harm to children or encourage an unhealthy lifestyle; and
  • selling techniques: this section covers the techniques that marketers might employ and how the rules apply to them, including the use of characters or celebrities, pricing and promotions.

To read CAP’s press release in full, click here and to access the e-learning module, click here.