Junk food advertising – how is it impacting children’s health?

Junk Food Advertising

Junk food advertising – how is it impacting children’s health?

Junk food advertising has been banned across London’s public transport network by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to combat childhood obesity and the growing crisis in poor diet. Preventing brands from aggressively advertising junk food to children on the transport network is a step in the right direction and we fully support it. The same applies to the government now consulting on a ban on junk food ads before 9 pm on TV, web streaming services and social media.  The link between heavily processed junk foods, weight and obesity is well established and recent studies suggest that diet-related diseases like diabetes are rising rapidly among children, which is hugely concerning. The majority of Londoners support the Mayor’s decision as well, including respected figures in the food industry such as Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

It’s a step in the right direction but what is junk food? I felt for one London food operator last week which then submitted advertising posters showing free-range butter and eggs from local farmers which were rejected for including ‘junk foods’.

People would probably consider burgers, doner kebabs and French fries as obvious examples of junk food. However, look at the small print surrounding items banned from advertising on the London transport network and the government’s proposed advertising ban before the 9 pm watershed and you’ll see it goes much further.

What the Mayor and our Health Secretary are both using to decide what falls foul of the junk-food advertising ban is something called the Nutrient Profiling Model. This was devised by activist academic Professor the Reverend Mike Raynor, who claims the Almighty was “calling me to work towards the introduction of soft drinks taxes in this country.” Raynor has now been hired by the government to evaluate the success of the sugar drinks levy.


Under Raynor’s model, “junk food” is defined as any food high in fat, sugar or salt (HFSS) with little or no nutritional value. So as well as highly processed food like crisps, chocolate bars,  pizza, burgers, sweets, milkshakes and fizzy drinks, HFSS covers a huge range of food most people wouldn’t consider junk food – eggs, bacon, most sausages, cheese (including half-fat cheese), raisins, sultanas, mustard, soy sauce, marmalade, honey, sweetened fruit juice, butter, margarine, olive oil, most breakfast cereals (including those high in fibre), baked beans, Marmite, most yogurts and peanut butter! It would be easier to list the foods for which advertising hasn’t been banned than list all those that are HFSS.

It’s not working the way it should and actually, some foods you would still think of as junk, like fizzy drinks with artificial sweeteners or low-fat fried foods, could in some scenarios comply with the new regulations. For example, McDonald’s last year was allowed to run a Happy Meal advert during children’s television.  It passed the standards being applied now as in the Happy Meal  80% of the mains and 100% of the sides are not HFSS. However, swapping sugar for a sweetener or fruit for chips doesn’t detract from the fact that this is still a fast food company promoting meals with fried foods to kids.

We need to use fact-based nutritional science to execute these key initiatives and to encourage a diet based on real food if they really are to have the intended impact and benefits which we desperately need for the future health of our children.

By Doug Richards,

CEO Sano, Food Lead College of Medicine

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