The UK government has asked for consultation on its proposal to ban online advertisements for foods high in fat, sugar, and salt to tackle the obesity crisis and get the nation fit and healthy.
An official release of the UK government quoted research that showed children were exposed to over 15 billion adverts for products high in fat, sugar, and salt (HFSS) online every year.
Evidence shows that exposure to HFSS shapes short-term and longer-term food preferences from a young age.
The new consultation, which will run for six weeks, will gather views from the public and industry stakeholders. This is being done to understand the impact and challenges of introducing a total ban on the advertising of these products online, to help people live healthier lives and tackle childhood obesity.
Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, said in an official statement: “I am determined to help parents, children, and families in the UK make healthier choices about what they eat.”
He added: “We know as children spend more time online, parents want to be reassured they are not being exposed to adverts promoting unhealthy foods, which can affect eating habits for life.
This will be a world-leading measure to tackle the obesity challenges we face now, but it will also address a problem that will only become more prominent in the future.”
Public Health Minister Jo Churchill said in a statement: “It’s vital we build on the world-leading obesity measures announced in July to ensure our efforts to tackle childhood obesity have the greatest impact.”
“We have already committed to restricting HFSS adverts on television before 9 pm. But we also need to go further and address how children can be influenced online, where they are spending more and more of their time,” he added.
Polling from 2019 showed widespread support (72 per cent) for the ban on online advertisements.
The government believes that obesity is one of the biggest health crises the country faces. Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of adults in England are overweight or living with obesity – and 1 in 3 children leave primary school overweight or obese, with obesity-related illnesses costing the NHS £6 billion a year.
The urgency of tackling obesity has been brought to the fore by evidence of the link to an increased risk from Covid-19.
Living with excess weight puts people at greater risk of serious illness or death from Covid-19, with the risk growing substantially as body mass index (BMI) increases. Nearly 8 per cent of critically ill patients with Covid-19 in intensive care units have been morbidly obese, compared with 2.9 per cent of the general population, the government added.