Response to CAP

The Committee on Advertising Practice's Code Review Consultation
Response by the Children's Food Campaign


We are pleased to submit a response to this consultation on behalf of the Children's Food Campaign which is co-ordinated by Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming (for more information see 

The Children's Food Campaign wants to improve young people's health and well-being through better food – and food teaching – in schools and by protecting children from junk food marketing.  We are supported by over 300 organisations and 12,000 members of the public. 

We understand that this is a wide ranging consultation, but this submission limits its comments to the issues of children and food, which are the remit of our work. A draft of this response has not been circulated to supporting organisations and individuals, because the points we make are established campaign policy

Section 22: Other comments

Question 74
Do you have other comments or observations on CAP's proposed Code that you would like CAP to take into account in its evaluation of consultation responses?

Food marketing to children

International research shows that food is among the products most marketed at children[1] and, for many children, food products will be among the first things that they purchase independently of their parents.  Marketing food and drinks to children is worth hundreds of millions of pounds every year.  The vast majority of this money promotes unhealthy foods: that is, foods which are high in fat, sugar and/or salt (HFSS)[2], with the Department of Health estimating that the commercial sector spends £335m every year promoting confectionery, snacks, fast food and sugary drinks[3].

The effects of marketing of junk food on children's dietary health are extremely worrying.  Some 86 percent of children eat too much sugar; 92 percent eat too much saturated fat[4].  In England the average fruit and vegetable intake for girls aged 5-15 is 2.6 portions and for boys 2.5 portions[5], which compares poorly to the World Health Organisation recommendation of at least five portions a day.  Whilst there are many factors influencing diet, research indicates that food promotions play a significant part in influencing food preferences, purchasing and consumption.[6]

The health consequences of poor dietary health are distressing and are associated with:

  • Some cancers, including three of the most common cancers: breast cancer, bowel cancer, and prostrate cancer.
  • Type 2 Diabetes. This used to be known as Adult Onset Diabetes but due to the rise of childhood obesity it is now also diagnosed in children and adolescents[7].
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure/ strokes
  • Dental problems
  • Mental health problems.  Research has suggested a link between mental ill health and sugar, fat and food additives in one's diet[8].

The Children's Food Campaign is concerned about the negative impact of unhealthy food marketing on children's health. We believe that the messages which children receive from the food industry seriously undermine the messages about healthy eating which parents, teachers and the government try to convey to them. The barrage of advertisements for junk food across all different media is damaging children's health.

Better regulation

Currently in the UK, children under the age of 16 are protected from some unhealthy food marketing through regulation introduced by Ofcom in April 2007, which restricts advertising of unhealthy food products during children's television programming.  In accordance with this regulation, the Broadcast Committee of Practice (BCAP) Code has been amended appropriately.  However, there is currently no legislation to protect children from unhealthy food marketing through media other than television, including those covered by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code. 

Since there is no evidence to suggest that non-broadcast marketing which targets children is any less effective than broadcast marketing, standards covering non-broadcast marketing aimed at children should be commensurate to, and consistent with, regulation of advertising of unhealthy foods on television. 

Therefore, the first two of the three amendments that we propose would bring the parts of the CAP code which cover non-broadcast marketing of food targeting children better into line with regulation covering television marketing of food to children.

Both these amendments to the code would constitute better regulation, since they simplify the rules covering food marketing to children, making them more media neutral and simpler to comply with.  As well as being consistent in protecting children from junk food marketing and its negative consequences, media neutral rules are an important aspect of good regulation in today's world of complex communication, and such consistency is expected by the public, including parents.  More complex regulation, which differentiates between different types of media, can be a burden on business, particularly small enterprises, and thus runs the risk of being anti-competitive.

Indeed, according to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)'s own website: “CAP and BCAP are working to ensure more consistency between the non-broadcast and broadcast media whenever that is desirable.”[9]  For the reasons outlined above, we believe such media neutrality is desirable, and an important step towards promoting children's health.

Proposed amendments

In response to the above consultation, the Children's Food Campaign proposes the following amendments to the CAP code. 

1. Adopt a definition of “children” consistent with UK law and other marketing regulation

The parts of the current CAP code that refer to the marketing of food to children tend to apply only to young children, for example:

“Except those for fresh fruit or fresh vegetables, food or drink advertisements that are targeted directly at pre-school or primary school children through their content should not include promotional offers.”[10] (emphasis added)

“Except those for fresh fruit or fresh vegetables, food or drink advertisements that are targeted
directly at pre-school or primary school children through their content should not include licensed characters or celebrities popular with children.”[11] (emphasis added)

However, there is good evidence that older children are also influenced by, and therefore need protection from, marketing of unhealthy foods[12].  While the way in which children understand marketing may change over time, its influence does not.  Older children also tend to have poorer diets than young children and are more at risk of obesity, making it even more important that they are protected.

UK law defines a child in a variety of ways, ranging between under 16 and under 18 years of age, while the UN Convention on the Rights on the Child defines children as 18 years and under. 

Ofcom has accepted that restrictions on television food advertising should apply to people under 16 years of age, and since under 16s who are susceptible to the power of broadcast advertising are no less vulnerable where a different medium is used, it would be consistent, and appropriate for the CAP Code to adopt a definition of “children” as those under the age of 16 throughout.

2. Adopt the nutrient profiling model currently used by Ofcom to determine which products the code should apply to

Adopting the Nutrient Profiling Model developed by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) for use by Ofcom to regulate the advertising and promotion of foods to children would also help to ensure that CAP regulation of non-broadcast food marketing to children is consistent with the existing regulation covering broadcast advertising, and would hence promote media neutrality. 

The Nutrient Profiling Model is scientifically robust and has recently been reviewed by the FSA and found to be fit for its intended purpose.  The adoption of this model would constitute better regulation since it identifies “healthy” products, to which no special standards or restrictions should apply; and “less healthy” products, marketing of which children should be protected from through the CAP Code and/or other regulation.

Adopting this model would allow the skills and power of marketers to be used for good, promoting the consumption of healthier products to children.  It is perverse for the marketing of healthy foods to be restricted, and we would hope that there would be consensus among the advertising industry that this is the case.

Such an amendment would reduce the regulatory burden on business because the marketing to children of foods deemed “healthy” by the model would not be subject to regulation and would allow advertisers freely to use advertising of healthier products to increase their brand profile.

3. Include equity brand characters alongside licensed characters and celebrities in the restrictions on their use

While the current CAP Code recognises that licensed cartoon and other child-friendly characters should not be used to promote products other than fruit and vegetables, the exclusion of equity brand characters – characters created by advertisers to promote a brand or product – from section 47.9 of the current CAP Code (and section 15.16 of the proposed revised Code) constitutes a considerable weakness. 

Such characters are used to make products appealing to children in the same way that licensed characters and celebrities are, and are rarely used to promote healthy products: a survey by consumer group, Which?, showed that of 19 of the most popular equity brand products, none promoted only healthy products[13].

As far as we are aware, there is no published evidence to suggest that equity brand characters are any less effective than licensed characters in promoting products to children, and therefore they should be treated in the same way.  Parents expect that their children will be protected from marketers using characters to promote unhealthy products to their children, and it is inconsistent and irresponsible for equity brand characters to be excluded from this clause in the Code.

Inclusion of equity brand characters in the new section 15.16, as well as extending this clause to apply to all children under the age of 16 (see above) would close the current loophole and better protect children from unhealthy food marketing.


Given the poor diet of the UK's children, and rising rates of obesity and diet-related ill health, it is vital that children are protected from marketing for unhealthy food products, regardless of the medium used.  The CAP should make the following amendments to the Code in order to better protect children from unhealthy food marketing:

  • Adopt a definition of “children” at those under the age of 16 throughout the Code;
  • Incorporate the Nutrient Profiling Model used by Ofcom to determine which products the Code's restrictions should apply to;
  • Include equity brand characters alongside licensed characters and celebrities in the restrictions on their use.

Such changes would also contribute to media neutrality, better achieving consistency between the current regulations for television advertising of food to children, constituting better regulation, and reducing the regulatory burden on business.


Children's Food Campaign
June 2009
Contact: Christine Haigh (



1. Coon, K.A., Tucker, K.L. (2002) Television and children's consumption patterns. A review of the literature. Minerva Pediatr 2002; 54: 423-436

2. Ofcom (2006) Television advertising of food and drink products to children - Options for new restrictions. London: Ofcom

 3. Change4Life (2009) Partner FAQs.

4. Office of National Statistics (2000)  National Diet and Nutrition Survey: young people aged 4 to 18 years. Volume 1: Report of the diet and nutrition survey.  Norwich: Office of National Statistics

5. Deveril, C. (2002) Fruit and vegetable consumption. Health Survey for England 2002.  London: Department of Health

6. Hastings, G., Stead, M., McDermott, L., Forsyth, A., MacKintosh, A.M., Rayner, M., Godfrey, C., Caraher, M., Angus, K. (2003)  Systematic review of research on the effects of food promotion on children.  London: Food Standard's Agency

7. Revill, J. (2003) UK faces child diabetes epidemic.  London: The Observer.  8 June 2003

8. Van de Weyer, C. (2005) Changing Diets, Changing Minds: how food affects mental health and behaviour.  London: Sustain

9. CAP Code section 47.8.  Retained as section 15.15 in proposed revision of the CAP Code.

10. CAP Code section 47.9.  Retained as section 15.16 in proposed revision of the CAP Code.

11. Hastings, G., Stead, M., McDermott, L., Forsyth, A., MacKintosh, A.M., Rayner, M., Godfrey, C., Caraher, M., Angus, K. (2003)  Systematic review of research on the effects of food promotion on children.  London: Food Standard's Agency; Livingstone, S. (2006) New research on advertising foods to children – an updated review of the literature.  London: Ofcom; Institute of Medicine (2006) Food marketing to children and youth: threat or opportunity?  Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press

12. Which? (2008) The Cartoon Villains are still getting away with it.  London: Which?

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Better food and food teaching for children in schools, and protection of children from junk food marketing are the aims of Sustain's high-profile Children's Food Campaign. We also want clear food labelling that can be understood by everyone, including children.

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