Junk food advertising could be banned on TV before 9pm as part of Government plans to tackle childhood obesity, it has been reported.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock is expected to announce a consultation on a new watershed for advertising junk food on television as well as whether radio stations and the internet should be subject to further restrictions, the Daily Telegraph said.
The plans were signed off by ministers last week, the paper said.
It added that ministers have warned that despite restrictions on advertising around children’s TV programmes, youngsters are still being exposed to “significant amounts” of advertising for products that are high in fat, salt or sugar.
Junk food adverts during children’s television programmes have been banned since 2007 but research by broadcasting regulator Ofcom has shown that children spend 64% of their TV viewing time watching shows not aimed specifically at them.
Research by the Obesity Health Alliance found that junk food companies in the UK spend £143 million a year on advertising compared to the £5 million spent annually by the Government on its healthy eating campaigns.
Cancer Research UK is among those that have been calling for advertising of unhealthy foods to be banned before the 9pm watershed.
Last year the charity said that watching one extra junk food advertisement a week beyond the average of six leads to children eating an additional 18,000 calories a year.
The study estimated the additional calories are the equivalent of around 70 Mars bars or 60 cheeseburgers – and could amount to a 5lb weight gain annually.
Obese children are about five times more likely to become obese adults with a much higher risk of health problems including cancers, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, research has suggested.
But the move has been resisted by broadcasters, who have warned that the plans for a watershed on junk food advertising risk doing permanent damage to the industry, the Daily Telegraph said.
It added that a coalition of television companies including ITV, Sky and Viacom, the owner of Channel 5, has been fighting the move to outlaw advertising for products that are high in fat, sugar or salt before 9pm.
Downing Street has been warned that big food brands are likely to transfer budgets that would have backed British television to websites and apps where there is no watershed and little control over what children see, the Daily Telegraph said.
Broadcasters fear that they are an easy target for campaigners and the Government when compared with Facebook and Google, which also carry advertising for junk food, it added.
A pre-watershed ban could be achieved through changes to existing rules that would not require new laws but because the internet is unregulated change would need new legislation, the Telegraph said.
Data from the media regulator Ofcom cited by the Telegraph said four to 15-year-olds are spending 43% less time watching broadcast television than in 2010, while obesity has continued to increase while, internet usage has increased 44% to 4.7 hours per week.