Labour has said it would introduce a ban on TV advertising of junk foods before the 9pm watershed if it wins next month’s general election.
The proposals would mark a significant extension of existing regulation which only prohibits the advertising of foods high in sugar, salt and saturated fat during programming aimed at children.
Critics say the current rules do not account for the fact that popular evening shows such as The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent attract a high number of young viewers.
Labour claimed the ban would reduce children’s exposure to junk food adverts by 82%. The pledge will form part of a child health bill that will be detailed in its manifesto.
In response, the Conservative Party said its childhood obesity plan, which was launched last year, was the most ambitious in the world. Health campaigners, however, have criticised the absence of tighter rules on food promotions and advertising.
Campaigners welcomed Labour’s proposal but said the proof would be in the delivery of the policy. “The proposed 9pm watershed on junk food ads is a good start, and a measure which Sustain's Children's Food Campaign has been advocating for many years,” said Ben Reynolds, deputy chief executive of Sustain. “However, we know from the experience of the sugary drinks tax, that industry and its front groups will spend millions of pounds and lobby ferociously to try to block the actions that are needed. The more that a party can set out its stall now, setting out both the ambitious policy goals and the penalties for failure to comply, the better.”
Critics of the policy, however, said it would do nothing to tackle childhood obesity. “Banning or restricting advertising has barely had any effect on overall consumption of products,” said Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs. “Introducing stricter regulations on when food adverts can be shown will do nothing to tackle childhood obesity, and it will be consumers, broadcasters and ultimately television viewers who lose out.”