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EU rules on junk food marketing watered down

Plans to revise the rules around advertising of junk food to children have been watered down by the European Parliament, according to campaigners.

The audiovisual media services directive (AVMSD) is a package of laws covering television advertising and shopping, sponsorship and product placement. Campaigners identified it as a “once in a decade” opportunity to protect children and limit their exposure to marketing of food and drinks that are high in fat, salt and/or sugar (HFSS).

However, the agreed text published by the European Parliaments’ Committee on Culture and Education (CULT) has “liberalised” product placements and deleted references to the World Health Organisation’s nutrient profiles (which are much stricter than the ones used in the EU Pledge signed by many of Europe’s biggest food and drink companies).

The wording for the types of programmes the new rules relate to is also much looser than the European Commission’s original proposals. CULT suggested the directive should encompass “children’s programmes” rather than “programmes with a significant children’s audience” – the latter would see the regulations cover prime-time shows like X Factor that are extremely popular with children.

Campaigners said the directive is full of loopholes and relies too heavily on self-regulation and industry codes of conduct.

AVMSD is likely to be finalised before the UK’s departure from the European Union. “It’s imperative that we continue to work to ensure that such legislation reflects the concerns of BMA members and not simply those of industry,” said Robert Delis, EU policy officer at the British Medical Association.

An average seven year old will have already watched screen media for more than one full year, whilst by the age of 18 the average young European will have spent a full four years in front of a screen.

The World Health Organisation this week released data showing that one in three adolescents is overweight or obese. It’s time for “ambitious policy action”, the health experts said.

Next week’s Footprint Premium (Tuesday 30th May 2017) will investigate the role of regulation in curbing obesity in the UK.