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Britain proposes limits on TV food ads to kids

Written by: Staff

LONDON, Mar 28 (Reuters) Food and drink ads aimed at children could be banned from British television under one of the proposals laid out by media regulator Ofcom today.

Ofcom has drawn up three potential remedies to address childhood obesity, which has increased from 9.6 percent of children aged 2 to 10 in 1995 to 15.5 percent in 2002, according to the Health Survey for England.

One proposal would ban food and drinks ads during TV programmes that are made specifically for children, or that appeal to children of nine years old and under, covering a broad range of programming such as ''The Simpsons''.

An alternate proposal would use the same criteria but would apply only to junk food high in fat, salt or sugar.

A third option, which would have the biggest financial impact on mainstream broadcasters, would place volume limits on the number of food and drink ads shown per hour at any time when children are likely to be watching.

''With childhood obesity, the case for targeted action has been made; but which action -- and how this should be implemented -- is the focus of this final stage of consultation,'' Ofcom Chief Executive Stephen Carter said in a statement.

The first two proposals would take a heavy toll on dedicated children's channels such as Nickelodeon and ITV's recently-launched CITV, with Ofcom estimating they could lose up to 20 percent of ad revenue, or about 28 million pounds (.9 million) per year for the entire industry.

The volume-based restrictions would most affect terrestrial channels such as ITV1 and Channel 4, which could face the loss of about 3 percent of their much larger ad revenue base.

LESS INVESTMENT ''Decisions on regulatory intervention need to be taken in the knowledge that they could lead to less programme investment,'' an ITV spokesman said. ''We will therefore work with Ofcom on this consultation to ensure any potential actions are both practical and proportionate.'' All three proposals would include content restrictions, such as banning celebrities and licensed characters from ads directed at children under the age of 10.

Consumer health groups, which had been lobbying for a full ban on junk food TV ads before 9 p.m., said Ofcom's proposals fell short.

''If Ofcom are serious about putting children's health above the narrow interests of the food and advertising industries they should stop all junk food TV ads before the 9 p.m. watershed,'' said Richard Watts of Sustain, which runs the Children's Food Bill Campaign.

Restrictions on food and drink ads have long been expected within the industry, and some companies have moved to change their marketing well ahead of any regulatory changes.

''We have not bought any advertising space in children's TV programmes for over five years,'' said a spokeswoman from British confectionery group Cadbury Schweppes Plc.

Ofcom also put forward a fourth proposal, inviting interested parties to devise another solution that would reduce children's exposure to food and drink advertising, particularly in foods that are linked to obesity.

The consultation period to discuss the proposals will close on June 6, 2006, Ofcom said.

Reuters DKS GC2021

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