Photograph courtesy of Digiday

Lizzie James


20 August 2020

Google’s Blanket Ban on Junk Food Ads for Minors in UK and EU

Google will be banning all advertisements for unhealthy food and drinks to minors in the UK and EU from October following Boris Johnson’s announcement of a ‘war on obesity’ – in the UK.

What will happen?

Minors will be shielded from “high-fat sugar salt (HFSS) food and beverage” marketing on all Google platforms, including YouTube, after October 6th.

The crackdown demands that companies declare if their advertisements feature any HFSS products, which will allow the algorithm to ensure that their ads aren’t shown to children.

If a user doesn’t log into their Google account to view content and their age cannot be determined, the HFSS advertisement remains hidden.

Obesity in the UK

Children in the UK get exposed to an average of 3,000 advertisements daily. Predictions are that over half of the ads promote fast food, with 20% mentioning a toy in their commercials to draw in the young viewers.

Regarding adults, health secretary Matt Hancock has previously stated if every overweight brit could lose five pounds of weight, it might save the NHS £100 million. This is significant because overweight children are more likely to progress into adulthood at an unhealthy weight.

Child obesity will have a knock-on effect not only to the health of the next generations but also on the health of the NHS.

Alternatively, that advertisement space could promote the opposite effect – healthy foods in advertising has increased wholesome eating in children, even as young as three to six years.

Will it work?

Fast food and sugary drink advertising are almost impossible for parents to protect their children against without proper legislation.

Junk food commercials activate a child’s reward centres in their brains more effectively than other kinds of advertisements. It isn’t a conscious process or one that can be identified by the child, which makes it all the more difficult to resist.

Children younger than eight, are cognitively defenceless to advertisements and often take the claims at face value. The problem gets tougher when marketing becomes even more subliminal.

Videos on YouTube that use M&Ms to teach kids the colours of the rainbow are just one example that seems harmless but can ingrain a desire for sweets in a child’s brain.

Product placements on content labelled as ‘educational’ leaves parents helpless to know when to curb their child’s advertisement exposure.

There are so many factors contributing to the rising cases of childhood obesity, especially the growing sedentary upbringing that’s seeing growing numbers of children sitting in front of screens being physically active.

There is good reason to believe that Google’s ban is vital in decreasing obesity for some children.

Are junk-food-pushing companies to blame?

It’s not black and white.

Marketing can be a make or break for any brand. If one company cuts down on advertising, it can have dire consequences on their business if competitors don’t follow suit.

Unless all companies are forced, it’s difficult to encourage any company to sacrifice their market standing to do the ‘right thing’ for their customers.

While this ban by Google can only do so much in limiting children’s exposure to junk food advertisements, it’s a right step towards promoting health above desire.

Combating child obesity is a process and if you’d like to learn more about introducing a healthier diet into your home, check out the NHS recommendations here.