Currently 13 million UK adults struggle with obesity. A further one million are admitted to NHS hospitals due to related illnesses annually, placing a huge financial burden on health services.
However, with the rise of social media advertising, many consumers are not provided with the same information around the ingredients within their products, making it more difficult to count calories and choose healthy options.
“Food manufacturers, if they can, will reduce calories,” said a spokesman for ingredients supplier AAK. “But one major fact is that we are no longer watching TV adverts. In the past, you used to take your pointers on what to eat from TV adverts that were supported by big budgets.
“They [consumers] get their nod on what to eat from social and media, and that means different things to different people. Advertisers can amplify certain things – but more importantly it fragments the food market. So the manufacturer that is trying to reduce calories may have to use different methods to reach different consumers and that is a big challenge.”
The Obesity Health Alliance agrees. Caroline Cerny, Alliance Lead at the Obesity Health Alliance, told Food Manufacture: “Advertising is extremely effective in influencing our purchasing decisions and that’s why companies spend millions every year, making such their products are centre stage in our minds and increasingly this spend is moving online to reflect our media habits.
“Regulating food advertising in the digital space is extremely challenging and it’s clear the current rules do not go far enough to protect children.
“Restrictions only apply to purely children’s content or when less than 25% of the audience is children – yet there is no definitive way to measure that. This is why we are calling for a comprehensive 9pm watershed on unhealthy food adverts across all types of media.”
Public Health England is continuing to push on with its plans to reduce calories by 20% by 2024.
To support this, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) told Food Manufacture that food advertising rules placed a particular emphasis on reducing the exposure of young people (under-16s) to adverts for food and drink products that were classed as high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS).
“These rules apply across media including to company websites and social media,” a spokesman said.
“Ads for HFSS products cannot be directed at people under 16 through the selection of media or the context in which they appear. No medium should be used to advertise HFSS products, if more than 25% of its audience is under 16 years of age.
“Food advertisers are acutely aware of these restrictions and instances where the ASA has had to take action to ban problem ads for HFSS products are relatively few.
“Our recent sweep of online advertising for HFSS product ads using new monitoring technology found that, in general, brands were sticking to the advertising rules when it comes to HFSS products on websites.
“Where we did pick up on problems, we took action. Similarly, our analysis of the amount of TV ads that children are exposed to revealed that they see 9.6 ads per week for HFSS products, which includes ads for products such as olive oil, butter and cheese which may have minimal appeal.”