Objective: To evaluate the level of compliance with the PAOS Code (Publicidad, Actividad, Obesidad y Salud), which establishes standards for the self-regulation of food marketing aimed at minors, in television advertising by food and beverage companies that have agreed to abide by the Code.
Design: The study sample consisted of food and beverage advertisements targeting children during 80 h of programming by four Spanish television networks. The level of compliance with each standard of the PAOS Code was classified into three categories: 'compliance', 'non-compliance' and 'uncertain compliance'. Overall, an advertisement was considered compliant with the PAOS Code if it met all the standards; non-compliant if it contravened one or more standards; and uncertain in all other cases.
Results: Of a total of 203 television advertisements from companies that agreed to the PAOS Code, the overall prevalence of non-compliance was 49.3% (v. 50.8% among those that did not agree to the code), with 20.7% of advertisements considered of uncertain compliance. Non-compliance was more frequent on Saturdays, in longer advertisements, in advertisements containing promotions or dairy products, and for advertisements from companies of French or US origin.
Conclusions: Non-compliance with the PAOS Code was very high and was similar for companies that did and did not agree to the Code, casting doubt on the Code's effectiveness and oversight system. It seems the time has come to commit to statutory regulations that reduce the negative impact of advertising on children's diets, as demanded by public health experts and consumer associations.