What is it about?

Unhealthy food online advertising has been shown to make it harder to maintain a healthy diet for both children and adults. Many policymakers and public health professionals recommend setting better rules in place to either reduce or ban online advertising of unhealthy food targeted towards children. We wanted to know what children, parents and professional stakeholders (academics, public health professionals, industry members and civil servants) thought about the placing of new rules. We listened to focus groups and carried out individual interviews. Our study showed that the majority of people supported the strengthening of rules for online advertising of unhealthy food, and thought that the government should have the control to do so. However, there was a minority of parents and industry members who did not want the rules to be strengthened, and did not want to see any government involvement. Our analysis showed that these views seemed to be based on concerns about who had power over our food environment and food options and choices. Those who felt that the government should put more rules in place to limit online advertising, described the food industry as having too much power over our food environment and believed that introducing rules to limit online advertising would help to reduce that power. Those that did not want rules to be introduced, described the government as having too much power over the public and that industry were ‘just doing their job’. Although these views may seem opposing at first, they are both concerned with the public and individuals being able to maintain control over the food environment and their food preferences. The introduction of rules to limit industry behaviour can actually help with improving individuals’ control, and as such it may be better to introduce rules to limit online advertising of unhealthy food to children. This would limit the amount of unhealthy food children would see online, may increase the amount of healthy food seen online, and also help to improve the general food environment that children grow up in.

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Why is it important?

This study is important because it shows two main findings. One, that the majority of participants in the study supported strengthening the rules surrounding online advertising of unhealthy foods to children. This is important because it demonstrates public backing behind a policy, and this is vital for policymakers to know. Two, it shows that when we are thinking about introducing new rules, the role of power (who has it, who doesn’t, how can we change the balance) is important to understand and consider. Introducing rules is not only about stopping or limiting particular industry activities, but can also be about changing power dynamics that people may see as problematic.


This study showed the importance of considering how people view power as part of creating public health policy. This is incredibly important if we want to ensure that public health policy is designed for the public, rather than other groups who may not have the public’s health as their key focus.

Lauren Carters-White
University of Edinburgh

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Children’s, parents’ and professional stakeholders’ views on power concerning the regulation of online advertising of unhealthy food to young people in the UK: A qualitative study, PLoS ONE, June 2022, PLOS,
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0268701.
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