McDonald’s lies leaving a bad taste

The Advertising Standards Authority (the ASA) has found that McDonald’s has breached rules that are meant to protect children from unhealthy food marketing following a complaint from the Children’s Food Campaign.

Children's Food Campaign 2019

Children's Food Campaign 2019

The advertising regulator restricts advertising of products that are high in fat, salt and/or sugar (HFSS) within 100 metres of schools. The McDonald’s advert for Big Tasty with Bacon - which is HFSS - was seen on a telephone box outside school gates.

McDonald’s claimed that because it was a new school, it had not appeared on the advertisers’ blacklist - the industry’s record of school locations. The ASA agreed to close the case after it was confirmed that:

  1. The school was added to the blacklist to prevent future HFSS adverts from being displayed there and
  2. The advert had been removed.

More than two weeks later (which is weeks after the complaint was raised), however, the Children’s Food Campaign has seen the advertisement still in place outside the school.

Past offences not policed

It’s not the first time McDonald’s has fallen foul of the regulator. In the last 14 months, the ASA has found the company breached the rules by advertising outside a primary school and advertising to children online.

Without a penalty system, there are no repercussions for companies that don’t play by the rules. Further, the ASA was unaware the advert had not been removed until it was brought to their attention by the Children’s Food Campaign.

Fran Bernhardt, Children’s Food Campaign Coordinator said:

"Without the power to levy fines or other penalties, the ASA has no teeth and as a result we are seeing companies break the rules time and time again. In this case, the company disobeyed the ASA and then lied about having done so. If a child had done this in school, they would expect a detention at the very least but McDonald’s gets off scott-free. We call for the ASA to have and use powers to levy fines on companies whose advertisement breaks the rules."

Caroline Cerny, Alliance Lead at Obesity Health Alliance said:

"There is clear evidence that junk food adverts are highly effective in making sure unhealthy products are firmly centre stage in children’s minds. And with one in three children affected by overweight or obesity, they deserve much better protection from unscrupulous food companies who are prepared to break the already weak rules, just to keep their junk food products in the spotlight."

About the ruling

The Children’s Food Campaign lodged a complaint in November 2019 about a Big Tasty with Bacon McDonald’s advert found close to a secondary school in South London. The Advertising Standards Authority agreed to informally resolve the complaint in December 2019 and published minimal information on their website on 8th January 2020.

You can read more on this story in The Grocer.


About the Children’s Food Campaign

Children’s Food Campaign (CFC) aims to improve children and young people's health by campaigning for policy changes in our schools, in our communities and throughout our society that would promote healthy and sustainable food environments. The Children's Food Campaign is supported by over 100 UK-wide and national organisations, including children’s and health charities and professional bodies, trade unions, school food experts and environmental organisations. It is a project of charity Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming.

The Children’s Food Campaign is calling for a number of measures to close various loopholes to protect children from junk food marketing and promotions that influence children’s preferences and likely increased consumption of excess sugar and calories. These include:

  • A 9pm watershed on TV and across all digital media for any advertising of HFSS products – the Government announced that it would consult on this measure as part of its Childhood Obesity Plan in June 2018, but a decision is still awaited.
  • A ban on the use of child-friendly characters on product packaging, promotional activity and all advertising – this was not part of the Government’s Chapter Two Childhood Obesity Plan, despite calls from politicians, health campaigners and children’s organisations for its inclusion.
  • An end to promotional displays of HFSS products at store checkouts, end of aisles and store entrances, and rules to ensure these products remain ‘in their own place.’
  • Restrictions on all price promotions for HFSS products that encourage or incentivise purchase of larger quantities of unhealthy foods. The Government ran a public consultation on these proposals in 2019, but has not announced any conclusions from this.
  • A thorough review of current CAP rules in light of recent rulings, to close loopholes that still allow children’s exposure to HFSS product adverts (eg outdoor adverts next to nursery schools and children’s centres, and the current 25% audience threshold), and the introduction of sanctions such as penalty fines for those found in breach of rules.

About Sustain
Sustain is the alliance for food and farming advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, enrich society and culture and promote equity. We represent around 100 national public interest organisations working at international, national, regional and local level.

Children's Food Campaign


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Children's Food Campaign: 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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Sustain advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture.

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