ASA reveals significant reduction in ads for HFSS products on children’s websites & YouTube channels

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has published the findings from the third of its monitoring sweeps, as part of a year-long project to identify and tackle age-restricted ads appearing in children’s online media.

Advertisers placing age-restricted ads online are required, under the Advertising Code, to target their ads away from child audiences. In particular, that means websites and YouTube channels designed for children or that attract a disproportionately high child audience cannot carry age-restricted ads.

Over the three month period, between October and December 2020, using monitoring tools to capture age-restricted ads served on a sample of 49 websites and 12 YouTube channels attracting a disproportionately high child audience, the ASA found that:

Overall, 47 age-restricted ads broke the advertising rules; and

In total, 21 advertisers placed age-restricted ads in 23 websites and 8 YouTube channels aimed at, or attracting a disproportionately large, child audience.

The ASA:

is taking follow-up action to contact the advertisers to secure the removal of the problem ads; and

warned the advertisers to review and, as necessary, amend their practices to ensure they target future ads responsibly.

Figures in this latest monitoring exercise reveal the number of HFSS ads in children’s media have fallen in comparison with the previous quarter:

Monitoring period

Total no. of   HFSS ads in breach of the rules

No. of HFSS ads likely to appeal to kids

No. of HFSS ads not likely to appeal to kids*

(i.e. technical breaches)

No. of HFSS advertisers












75 fewer ads


41 fewer ads


34 fewer ads



23 fewer advertisers

*includes products such as tuna, olive oil, pate and goat kefir

ISBA’s Director of Public Policy, James Barge said:

“We welcome this latest report from the ASA, which shows that it is making significant progress in its stated ambition “to build a culture of zero tolerance for age-restricted ads appearing on websites aimed at children”. It’s clear that advertisers and agencies are working effectively to ensure advertising is targeted appropriately, with the number of in-breach advertisers representing a very small subset of the total advertisers in the respective product categories. There is no reason to expect that this demonstrable progress would not continue in the coming year. 

“This is particularly important in the context of the current debate on HFSS advertising online. This report shows the effectiveness of the ASA system in protecting children online and the importance that advertisers attach to complying with the rules. We all have an interest in tackling obesity and ensuring that children are protected online. That’s why we are clear not that nothing should be done, but that there are far better ways to protect children online. Industry and government must work together to ensure that we build a collective and proportionate response.”