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Even adverts for ‘healthy’ fast food are bad for children – here’s why they should be banned

Television adverts for foods which are high in fat, salt or sugar are banned from children’s television schedules. Yet a McDonald’s “Happy Meal” advert was recently ruled to be exempt from these restrictions.

Shown between episodes of Peppa Pig, the advert promoted a meal which included chicken nuggets, pineapple and water – a menu which passed the Advertising Standards Association’s standards for healthy food. But, while it might be encouraging to see one of the world’s biggest food giants promoting fruit, can a McDonald’s advert ever truly be considered “healthy”?

It is clear that the huge amount of money spent on food advertising works. Campaigns are highly effective at persuading us to buy and eat more junk food, contributing to our expanding waistlines and hopelessly declining health.

The influence has been particularly well documented in children, who are more likely to like, demand and consume products which are high in fat, sugar or salt (HFSS) after watching adverts which promote them. Against a backdrop of worryingly high sugar consumption by children in the UK, the evidence is so compelling that the government is now considering a 9pm watershed on HFSS food marketing as part of the Childhood Obesity Plan.

Some food companies have responded by reformulating their products to cut down on sugar, salt and fat. This means that traditionally HFSS brands are now producing healthier, “non-HFSS” products which are exempt from the marketing restrictions, including the Happy Meal that appeared during the Peppa Pig ad-breaks.