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Delays to UK food advertising regulations condemned as unjustified, disastrous attack on health

Children's Food Campaign

Burger and cola

"This is a disastrous and totally unjustifiable level of delay, and it is wrong to claim that industry has not had enough time to prepare, as the consultations took place in 2019, and the decision to introduce the 9pm watershed and online advertising restrictions announced in 2020"


Yet again, the UK government has delayed the implementation of its own long-promised restrictions on the advertising of sugary drinks and other 'junk foods' (i.e. 'ultra-processed foods, high in sugar, salt and unhealthy fats) to children and adolescents - from January 2023 to October 2025.

UK children's diets are now dominated by ultra-processed foods and drinks - and research shows that:

  • high intakes of such foods not only contribute to obesity, Type 2 diabetes and other chronic physical health conditions, including allergies and immune disorders - but also have negative effects on brain development and function - and therefore mood, behaviour and ability to learn
  • exposure to advertising boosts children's consumption of these 'fake foods' (and particularly impacts those children most at risk of obesity and related physical and mental health problems) 

Given the current public health crisis, and the soaring rates of anxiety, depression and other mental health problems affecting UK children and adolescents, there really are no acceptable words to describe this complete failure of the UK government to protect children's health, and their choice instead simply to keep protecting the profits of the ultra-processed food industry.

For further information please see:

And for more information on ultra-processed foods in children's diets and their implications, see

09/12/2022 - Sustain

The Government has announced that the introduction of a 9pm watershed and online ban on paid for advertising for food and drink high in fat, salt and/or sugar will be delayed until October 2025 - almost three years after they promised the legislation would come into force. Children's Food Campaign responds.

The Children's Food Campaign is appalled that the Government has pushed back the introduction of the long awaited 9pm watershed and online advertising ban on junk food for almost three more years, until October 2025.

Barbara Crowther, Children's Food Campaign Co-ordinator, says:

"It ought to be easy for families and children to eat healthily but especially in this cost of living crisis, it's becoming harder than ever especially for people on low incomes to access nutritious food. By delaying these measures, government is encouraging the food and drink industry to continue spending millions of pounds in advertising junk food, rather than supporting families to access healthy and nutritious options.

"This is a disastrous and totally unjustifiable level of delay, and it is wrong to claim that industry has not had enough time to prepare, as the consultations took place in 2019, and the decision to introduce the 9pm watershed and online advertising restrictions announced in 2020.

"We are calling on Rishi Sunak and health secretary Steve Barclay to give children's health a chance, and recommit to halving child obesity by 2030, and reduce the length of any delay to no later than January 2024."

Obesity prevalence remains above pre-pandemic levels, affecting 1 in 4 children by the time they leave primary school. The UK now has the fastest growing rates of early onset type-2 diabetes amongst young people in the world.

The 9pm watershed ban on TV and online junk food advertising was the central pillar of the Government's obesity strategy, which would have saved an estimated £76 billion over the next 25 years if implemented in full, according to research commissioned by Impact on Urban Health and produced by the Behavioural Insights Team and Nesta.  The Government's own figures estimate that proposed obesity prevention policies will substantially improve diets, including for people on lower incomes, and continuing to delay obesity prevention will make inequalities worse.  

Earlier this year the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt MP warned the previous Government that u-turning on child health measures was the wrong thing to do. He and 25 other former health ministers wrote to the Government asking them not to delay, and pointing to the long term economic benefit of obesity prevention, and reducing the costs of ill-health for future taxpayers. 

74% of the UK population also support the introduction of the 9pm watershed and online advertising restrictions. 

The Government introduced powers for the Health Secretary to delay the date of introduction during the passage of the Health and Social Care Bill, but reassured parliamentarians that these would not be used unless absolutely necessary.

Failure to consult on the technical guidance to underpin the new regulations during 2022 now mean it is impossible to bring the measures in by 1 January 2023 as originally legislated. However, introducing a further delay of almost three years is completely unjustified and unscientific. It also takes the date of implementation beyond the current Government's term of office, effectively washing its hands of responsibility for the legislation.

The Government announced this on the afternoon of Friday 9 December. You can read the Written Ministerial Statement here and the Statutory Instrument is here. The technical consultation is available here.