Banning junk food advertising in online and social media is a landmark decision to help tackle childhood obesity.
The new rules will ban the advertising of food or drink high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) across all non-broadcast media targeted at under-16s from July 2017, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) said.
‘A ban on companies using promotions, licensed characters or celebrities popular with children in ads for high in fat, salt or sugar food or drink will be partly lifted for the advertising of healthier options.’
The changes bring media such as print, cinema and, crucially, online and social media, into line with television, where strict regulation prohibits the advertising of unhealthy food to children.The new restrictions also apply to TV-like content online, such as on video-sharing platforms or 'advergames', if they are directed at or likely to appeal particularly to children.
They ban ads that directly or indirectly promote an HFSS product from appearing in children's media or other media where children make up more than 25% of the audience.
Shifting media habits among young people and evolving advertising techniques had fundamentally changed children's relationship with media, CAP said.
The "significant" change would help protect the health and wellbeing of children and lead to a major reduction in the number of ads for HFSS food and drinks they see, said the organisation, which is responsible for writing and maintaining the UK advertising codes.
CAP chairman James Best said: "Childhood obesity is a serious and complex issue and one that we're determined to play our part in tackling. These restrictions will significantly reduce the number of ads for high, fat, salt or sugar products seen by children.
Our tough new rules are a clear demonstration that the ad industry is willing and ready to act on its responsibilities and puts the protection of children at the heart of its work."
The Obesity Health Alliance, a coalition of more than 30 charities, Royal Medical Colleges and campaign groups, said, " We welcome CAP's long-awaited rules to protect children from junk food marketing across all types of media and are pleased to see them recognise that restrictions should apply to kids up to the age of 16."
Research shows advertising greatly influences the food children choose to eat, and with one third of children overweight or obese by their 11th birthday, we need to protect them from relentless junk food marketing in all walks of life.
Children's Food Campaign co-ordinator Malcolm Clark said: "CAP has finally listened to the voices of parents and health professionals, after years of resisting calls for stronger measures to reduce children's exposure to junk food marketing online.
But Mr Clark also raised concerns that the 25% of the audience rule provided insufficient protection to children and gave parents little knowledge of what will or will not be covered.
He said: "Ultimately, the new rules are only as good as the body which enforces them. We hope that CAP and the Advertising Standards Authority will ensure companies follow both the letter and the spirit of these new rules, and close any loopholes which arise."
Professor Neena Modi, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said,
"With over a fifth of children in the UK overweight or obese when they start primary school and a third by the time they reach Year 6, surely it is time for Government to strengthen rules around all advertising, and in particular ban the advertising of foods high in salt, sugar and fat on television before the 9pm watershed."
This is an important step given children are increasingly turning to digital channels of communication. It complements our world-leading plan to reduce childhood obesity, backed by the Soft Drinks Industry Levy and Public Health England's sugar reduction programme.