Northern Ireland news

Junk food ads to be subject to heavier online restrictions and 9pm watershed

Fast food and confectionery giants are to face restrictions

A DECISION to ban junk food adverts before the 9pm television watershed was welcomed last night by a Northern Ireland health charity who said the move was "long overdue".

Fast food and confectionery giants will be banned from advertising products high in fat, sugar and salt online but there will be exemptions for small businesses with 249 employees or fewer.

The changes, which come into force at the end of next year, are part of the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's efforts to tackle obesity.

However, restrictions will stop short of the total ban which was proposed last year,

Companies can continue to promote their products on their own websites and social media platforms under the new measures.

Firms will also be able to advertise on television before the watershed if they do not show banned foods, a ruling that is expected to be opposed by health campaigners.

Online audio will be exempted, meaning that fast food and confectionery will be advertised on radio stations broadcasting over the internet, as well as on podcasts.

The new regulations also allow exemptions for the healthiest foods within each category, such as honey, olive oil, avocados and marmite.

NICHS spokesperson Neil Johnston said the new restrictions were "long overdue" as "obesity is one of Northern Ireland's greatest public health challenges".

"We know junk food advertising is linked to unhealthy choices and excess calorie intake especially in children and young people, so this ban on junk food adverts after 9pm is definitely needed to protect our children and everyone from the constant bombardment of adverts for high fat and sugary foods," he said.

"We also know that no amount of government legislation on advertising or on the make up or availability of foods will radically tackle obesity.

"However, this is an excellent step forward to support people to make healthier choices.

"It will help to protect and improve our public health."

Caroline Cerny, from the Obesity Health Alliance, said: "Going ahead with landmark policies to restrict unhealthy food advertising shows that the Government is serious about putting our nation's health first.

"Tough new restrictions will stem the flood of adverts on TV and online that entice us towards sugary and high fat foods, making space to advertise healthier foods," she said.

However, Sue Eustace, public affairs director at the Advertising Association, said it was "dismayed" by the restrictions.

"Levelling up society will not be achieved by punishing some of the UK's most successful industries for minimal effect on obesity levels," she said.

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