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Korea: Junk Food Ads to Be Bumped From Prime-Time TV


Jane Han

The Korean Times

May 27, 2008

Korea has declared war against children's obesity with the first prong of its attack focused on banning television commercials for junk food from time slots favored by children.

Even before the implementation, however, opposition voices are being raised by advertisement agencies fearing a dent in their bottom line. Related interest groups are marking their time to join the fray, adding uncertainty to the plan to introduce a ``junk food curfew'' on air in March next year.

A new law protecting children's health ― set to be effective March 22 ― will ban food firms from promoting free toys and add-ins on television, radio and online advertisements. This means, don't expect to see what the latest happy meal toy is on McDonald's adverts.

The rule is just one of many related, forthcoming clampdowns by the Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA), which claims it will eventually block virtually all TV commercials promoting ``unhealthy'' food and drinks during prime time, starting January 2010.

Although this is already common practice in advanced countries, domestic companies are expressing concerns that they will suffer a significant hit on sales, and ultimately, brand loyalty.

Research shows that lifelong loyalty to a particular brand starts at as early an age as two, so getting such a golden opportunity snatched away is provoking manufacturers.

Chung Sung-hoon, spokesman of Lotteria, the nation's No. 1 fast food chain, expressed discontent over the KFDA's decision, claiming that the restriction is ``excessive.''

He said Lotteria currently airs about seven to eight TV ads per day, but the ban will push them to divert their promotion efforts to other outlets.

The spokesman for Haitai Confectionary, the country's second-largest snack maker, said, ``Detailed criteria making up the standards for `unhealthy' goods haven't been released, but the decision doesn't come as good news for us.''

The KFDA said ``high-caloric, low-nutrition'' food and drinks will be banned from airing between 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. It added that a further definition of restricted goods will be announced in January 2009. And prior to a full ban in 2010, it said hearings will be held to collect public opinions.

``South Korea is belatedly moving to join the league of other advanced countries in protecting children's health,'' said Lee Ji-young of the children's food safety division at KFDA, explaining that the U.K., the U.S., France and Australia are among countries that have already cracked down on junk food ads.

Consumer groups also claim that the barring should have come sooner.

Lim Eun-kyung of Seoul YMCA's consumer group says one out of five children in South Korea is overweight, stressing that a broader and stricter measure to protect children from junk food exposure is necessary.

She added, ``It's unfortunate to see domestic companies only going after their own good, while putting youth health at stake.''

A recent study done at Liverpool University shows that children who are bombarded with junk food ads will nearly double their intake of unhealthy snacks.




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