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IPA meets TfL to discuss proposed HFSS ad ban

The IPA has met with TfL to discuss the Mayor of London’s proposed ban on HFSS (high fat, salt and sugar) advertising across TfL’s estate as part of his Draft London Food Strategy.


During the meeting, IPA Director General, Paul Bainsfair, and Director of Legal and Public Affairs, Richard Lindsay, outlined the IPA’s written response to the consultation on the proposal which centres around four main issues:

A lack of clarity over what constitutes ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ food and drink:

  • The draft strategy refers throughout to ‘not healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ foods by reference to the Food Standards Agency Nutrient Profile Model (‘NPM’), but the NPM does not classify foods as “healthy” or “unhealthy”. Rather, the purpose of the NPM is to classify food and drinks which exceed a certain score as ‘less healthy’. The Government web page containing a link to the guidance even acknowledges that food and drinks that are classified as HFSS “can form part of a balanced diet”.
  • By banning ads for food and drinks that are not “healthy”, and determining what is and what is not “healthy” by reference to the NPM, the Mayor’s strategy will lead to the banning of advertising of foods and drinks which could form part of a balanced diet.

Advertising of Food and Drink is not “unregulated”

  • The draft strategy claims that the “advertising of foods that are unhealthy is often unregulated“. This is simply not true. The UK has one of the strictest and most respected advertising regulatory systems in the world and the CAP and BCAP Codes contain detailed rules on the advertising of food and drinks to children.

The disproportionate effect of a ban to protect children on ads for adults:

  • A priority for the Mayor is to protect children from obesity. A ban, as proposed, would not achieve this aim and would be disproportionate because many products categorised as HFSS under the NPM would be of interest to adults rather than children, such as butter, pesto and certain cooking oils.
  • Further, adults form a greater proportion of the audience for ads across the TfL estate than children.

The introduction of a ban on brand ads:

  • The draft strategy also proposes a ban on ads for companies that just advertise their brand or name where those brands are associated with ‘unhealthy’ products. The rules under the CAP and BCAP Codes apply to ads for HFSS products and also to ads that have the effect of promoting HFSS products through the use of branding that is synonymous with an HFSS product or range of products. In other words, those types of ad are regulated also.

Says Paul Bainsfair, Director General, IPA: “The IPA supports the aims of the Draft London Strategy, in particular, protecting children from obesity. However, we do not believe that a ban on HFSS ads across the TfL estate will significantly contribute to that aim. Advertising of HFSS foods to children is well regulated and a ban on ads for products that are ‘not healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ by reference to the Nutrient Profiling Model would prevent ads for products which may actually form part of a balanced diet. It would also have the disproportionate effect of banning ads for products that are of interest to adults rather than children. We would suggest that promoting healthy lifestyles is more likely to help prevent childhood obesity than imposing ad bans."

Last updated 19/07/2018

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