The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) unveiled its code of non-broadcast advertising of children's food and drink products earlier this month. It will come into effect from July 1, to coincide with Ofcom's corresponding regulations for TV advertisements.
The organisations (Which?, The British Heart Foundation, The National Union of Teachers, The Women's Institute, The National Children's Bureau, The Children's Food Campaign, Diabetes UK, National Consumer Council, National Heart Forum, and netmums.com) last week send a joint letter to public health minister Caroline Flint in which said the CAP code "fails to deal with the volume of food advertising children are bombarded with".
Their stance highlights the fierce debate over adverting that is currently raging between UK health organisations and watchdogs, government bodies and the food industry. The CAP code is notably less strict than Ofcom's corresponding code for broadcast ads, which has been strongly criticised by industry.
But Miranda Watson, a food campaigner for Which?, said "The rise in childhood obesity and diet-related disease needs to be addressed urgently. The CAP restrictions were an opportunity to finally make progress, but they have fallen well short of the mark."
"The government needs to step in, tighten the existing CAP codes and ensure that those areas that fall outside the codes are tackles," she added.
On the other hand, a spokesperson for the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) told FoodNavigator.com: "The new rules are comprehensive and are tougher than any other codes in the UK since they apply to all food and drink except fruit and vegetables. This is a sign of the advertising communities' commitment to marketing food and drink products responsibly."
The tenets of the CAP code tare that advertisements for food or soft drink products should not condone or encourage poor nutritional habits or unhealthy lifestyle in children; encourage excessive consumption of food or drink products; or give a misleading impression of the nutritional health benefits of the product.
It says that promotional offers should not be used in a "irresponsible way", that "high pressure" or "hard sell" techniques should not be used, and that licensed characters or celebrities popular with children should not be used for advertisements aimed at children of pre-school or primary school age.
Although intended to apply to adverts aimed at all children under the age of 16, the CAP code places greater emphasis on adverts whose content is directly targeted to pre- or primary school children.
Unlike Ofcom's regulations, CAP's are not based on the nutrient profiling model developed by the Food Standards Agency, which has been a flashpoint of disagreement over the past 12 months.
CAP has said that the FSA's model was developed specifically for broadcast ads, and in any case, it considers that it has "serious flaws".
For instance, it does not consider the combination, frequency or portion size of food - factors that are important in the context of an overall balanced diet. It does not consider vitamin and mineral content or additives, and therefore classifies some nutritious products eaten by children, such as cheese, raison or breakfast cereals, as unhealthy on the grounds of fat or sugar content.
"It seems to be based on the scientifically invalid assumption that 'good' nutrients can balance out 'bad' nutrients," said the CAP.
This sentiment was echoed by the FDF spokesperson, who said: "We are pleased that CAP rejected the use of nutrient profiling, which is a scientifically flawed model."
They said that there were no real surprises in the CAP code, since it is similar to content rules applied by BCAP (Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice) earlier this year.
But the FDF said it is "staggered" that the organisations have attacked CAP's rules before they have had a chance to work.
"These rules provide a strict framework which prevents companies using celebrities and licensed characters, promotional offers and health or nutrition claims in food and soft drink ads targeted at under-12s."
Discussions are still underway with the Department of Health's Food and Drink Advertising and Promotion Forum on non-broadcast areas of advertising that are not covered by CAP, such as packaging and sponsorship deals.
The organisation criticising the CAP code have also said that there such forms of advertising should be dealt with by the UK government as a matter of urgency.