Lessons from the Digital Frontline: Evidence to Support the Implementation of Better Regulation of Digital Marketing for Foods and Drinks High in Fat, Salt and Sugar
Overweight and obesity is the leading preventable cause of cancer in the UK after smoking. It is linked to a number of health conditions, including 13 different types of cancer, causing over 22,000 cancer incidences annually (approx. 6% of all cancer cases). Reducing obesity levels therefore must be a key priority in improving public health and protecting future generations.
Research has consistently shown that advertising of high fat, salt, and sugar (HFSS) products influences dietary-related knowledge, attitudes, and consumption, especially amongst children and young people.
The rise of digital media has provided new opportunities for the food and drink industry to reach, influence, and interact with consumers. However, these audiences include children and young people, which has consequences. Protecting the vulnerable from exposure to HFSS advertising, wherever it appears, is vital.
As the UK Government considers how to restrict HFSS marketing and online harms, it is crucial to ensure that regulation reflects the unique digital environment to adequately protect children from the harms of marketing.
Purpose of the report
This report investigates how digital marketing for HFSS food and drink is regulated in the UK and examines alternative methods of regulating online marketing. Based upon this evidence, the researchers have produced a best practice checklist for government and regulators:
How can digital marketing be regulated to protect children?
- Introduce regulations with clear definitions
- Update definitions as media evolves
- Marketing required to meet ‘minimum standards of design’
- Sufficiently monitor and enforce regulation
- Regularly evaluate the effects of regulation
- The UK’s current regulatory system has several limitations
- Digital marketing involves unique considerations for regulation
- Regulation of digital marketing of other products provides precedents for HFSS regulation
The starting point of good regulatory practice would be for the UK Government to build on WHO Europe’s framework for monitoring children’s exposure to harmful marketing online, by ensuring digital advertising regulation is aligned with our best practice checklist.
Decisive policy action at a national level is key to achieving the UK Government’s ambition of halving childhood obesity rates by 2030. The UK Government must introduce a comprehensive 9pm watershed for HFSS adverts across all forms of media, including digital and online, to reduce children’s exposure.