IAB UK statement following announcement of HFSS online ad ban

Posted on Thursday 24 June 2021 | IAB UK

With the Government having confirmed an HFSS online ban for paid-for ads from the end of 2022, read a statement from our CEO Jon Mew

Following the announcement that the Government will legislate for a total ban of paid-for online ads for certain products high in fat, salt and sugar, I am astounded and hugely disappointed that headline-grabbing, hollow actions have trumped evidence-led solutions. 

This blunt and ill-informed policy will not only do untold damage to the digital advertising industry, it creates the illusion of progress being made on the critical issue of childhood obesity, when in fact the evidence shows that banning ads online will achieve next to nothing in terms of reversing children’s obesity rates. 

While there are some concessions for SMEs, brand ads and digital audio, by banning paid-for promotion of perfectly legal food products to all age groups, the Government will be inflicting untold damage on the digital advertising, media and hospitality industries at a crucial time of recovery. Perhaps this would be understandable if the evidence available showed that online adverts are fuelling childhood obesity - yet the Government hasn’t been able to demonstrate that going beyond the existing restrictions and banning HFSS advertising entirely (for adults and children alike) is the right solution to such a complex and multifaceted issue as obesity. 

An outright ban for digital media has been framed as a way to level the playing field with a TV watershed,  yet HFSS advertising is not being eliminated, quite rightly, on TV or in any other form of media - apart from digital. For a Government that claims to be unashamedly pro-tech, this ban demonstrates a failure to engage with the technological capabilities of digital advertising.

For months, we have been calling on the Government to work with us to build on the progress of existing regulatory requirements that protect children with smarter, digital-first solutions. The proposal we put forward as an alternative to the ban would further restrict children’s already limited exposure to HFSS ads online, without inflicting unnecessary damage on the advertising, media and hospitality industries. The Government has today made the wrong decision to implement a bad policy - one that is not fit for our digital age nor fit for the job it is setting out to do.

For our members, we know that this announcement will be extremely worrying and that you will need clarification of what the new restrictions will mean in practice. There is a huge amount of detail to absorb, and we are working quickly to be able to share more information with you in the coming days, but please don’t hesitate to get in touch with [email protected] with any questions in the meantime. 


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