Ofcom moves to restrict the advertising of unhealthy foods

In compliance with the UK Government’s crackdown on obesity, Ofcom acts to implement the new restrictions on advertising and sponsorship for less healthy food and drinks. With these new restrictions coming into force from 1 October 2025; rights holders, advertisers, sponsors, and broadcasters ought to reconsider how to best approach their sponsorship and advertising programmes.

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On 21 February 2023, Ofcom launched a consultation into its proposed changes to the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (BCAP Code) and Ofcom Broadcasting Code (Broadcasting Code) to reflect new laws restricting the advertising and sponsorship of less healthy food and drink products. With changes to advertising and sponsorship rules looming, we consider the impact of these restrictions on key players in the industry.

Incoming restrictions on the advertising of less healthy food and drink products

The Health and Care Act 2022 amended the Communications Act 2003 to introduce new restrictions on advertising and sponsorship for less healthy food and drinks. Less healthy food and drink products are those which are high in fat, salt, or sugar.  These new restrictions apply to advertising online and to advertising on Ofcom-regulated TV and on-demand programme services. Initially due to come into force from 1 October 2025, the implementation of these new restrictions has recently been delayed to better allow the industry to prepare.

The new restrictions:

  1. prohibit TV services and on-demand programme services from including advertising and sponsorship for less healthy food and drink products between 5:30am and 9:00pm; and
  2. ban paid-for online adverts for less healthy food and drink products when aimed at UK users (at any time).

To adopt these new restrictions, Ofcom is proposing to amend the BCAP Code and the Broadcasting Code, as well as appointing the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) as a co-regulator to enforce the restrictions online.

The consultation includes suggested amended wording to the BCAP Code and Broadcasting Code to tackle the new restrictions on TV and on-demand programme services, as well as proposed responsibilities to be held by the ASA as the designated co-regulator to enable it to enforce the online restrictions. Specifically, Ofcom proposes to give the ASA responsibility for incorporating the rules into a code, ensuring advertisers comply with the rules and handling complaints.

If you’d like your thoughts heard, the closing date for responses to the Ofcom consultation is 21 April 2023.

Considerations for key players

These new restrictions on advertising and sponsorship for less healthy food and drinks play a part in the UK Government’s overarching strategy for tackling obesity in the UK. This isn’t the first set of restrictions imposed on the advertising sector – for example, in 2019, TfL saw a restriction on junk food advertising on the underground.

Leading up to 1 October 2025, broadcasters, publishers, and advertisers may need to reconsider their advertising/sponsorship agreements from the perspective of desired exposure, with a view that the advertising of less healthy food and drink products will be more strictly regulated and restricted.

Time will tell how TV, on-demand and online advertising and sponsorship will fit into the business strategy of these key players going forward.

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