Ending online junk food adverts will lead to UK children eating the equivalent of 62 million fewer doughnuts every year

Posted on: 1st April 2021

The British Liver Trust, as part of the Obesity Health Alliance, is urging the Government to go ahead with a total restriction on junk food adverts online, after a new analysis has revealed the potential health benefits for children.

Analysis by the Obesity Health Alliance found that ending online advertising for unhealthy products such as sweets, crisps and pizza could benefit the UK’s children by removing the equivalent of 88 skips of doughnuts or 183 wheelie bins full of chocolate biscuits from their diets every week (i).

According to the Department of Health and Social Care, restricting online adverts for food and drink products that are both high in fat, sugar and salt and also contribute to children’s excess sugar and calorie intake, could lead to UK children (aged 4-15) eating 12.5 billion fewer calories a year (ii). That’s equivalent to removing the following from children’s diets:

  • 62 million doughnuts a year (1.2million each week), or
  • 150 million chocolate biscuits a year (2.8 million each week), or
  • 41 million cheeseburgers a year (798K each week)

The link between adverts and calorie intake

In 2020 the Government confirmed plans to introduce a 9pm watershed on high fat, sugar and salt food adverts on TV and held a consultation on their proposal to go further online with a complete restriction on these adverts. This move is due to concern about the huge number of junk food adverts children see on TV and online and the impact this has on what they eat.

Seeing just one minute of unhealthy food advertising can lead to children eating an additional 14.2 calories (iii). These prompts, which can lead to eating just a little bit extra every day, can easily lead to excess weight in children – as it can take as little as 46 additional calories every day to put on weight (iv).

Vanessa Hebditch, Director of Policy and Communications at the British Liver Trust, says: "NAFLD is now one of the most common forms of chronic liver disease in children and adolescents. Sadly, children who live with obesity are more at risk of developing non-alcohol related fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in adulthood, along with many other health conditions. If left untreated, NAFLD can eventually lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

"Currently one in three children have a weight classed as overweight or obese when they leave primary school. The causes of obesity are complex, but the environment we live in plays a huge role. Experts believe that over the next decade NAFLD will become the leading cause of endstage liver disease. The Government should take steps now to reverse this worrying trend.”

Caroline Cerny, Obesity Health Alliance Lead says: "Whether they are scrolling social media, following their favourite influencers or simply researching their homework, children can’t escape the endless and creative adverts and endorsements for junk food. If the Government is at all serious about addressing obesity, it must take unhealthy food out of the spotlight and introduce regulation so only healthier food adverts can be shown. Failing to tackle online advertising will hugely undermine other measures to protect children from marketing."

Notes

(i) Based on these dimensions: Small builders skip = 305cm /122cm/122cm. Doughnut = 8cm/8cm/5cm. Wheelie bin = 60cm/80cm/180cm. Biscuit = 7cm/7cm/1cm

(ii) DCMS & DHSC (2020). Evidence note. https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/total-restriction-of-online-advertising-for-products-high-in-fat-sugar-and-salt-hfss/evidence-note
3.64 kcal per day per child, or 1,329 kcal per year per child, multiplied by 9.4m (no. of children in UK population aged 4-15)

(iii) Russell SJ, Croker H, Viner RM. The effect of screen advertising on children's dietary intake: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Rev. 2019 Apr;20(4):554-568. doi: 10.1111/obr.12812. Epub 2018 Dec 21

(iv) Plachta-Danielzik S, Landsberg B, Bosy-Westphal A, Johannsen M, Lange D, Muller M. Energy gain and energy gap in normalweight children: longitudinal data of the KOPS. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2008, 16(4).

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