We’d #AdEnough , and so we changed the law!

Dev shares his story about campaigning against junk food ads that led to the restrictions being passed by the Government in 2021.

When was the last time you saw a junk food ad — for a burger, a chocolate bar, a fizzy drink — pop up on your phone? Last weekend? Yesterday? Maybe this morning? I wanted to stop companies bombarding young people with ads for a £1 chicken burger or a 30p chocolate bar. So in 2021, I led Bite Back’s campaign to end junk food advertising online.

In this blog, I will detail the combination of the raw voices of children fighting for their future and ground-breaking research that became particularly appealing to then-Health Secretary Matt Hancock and then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson. If not from our stories, the algorithm we created to email them each time the 10,000 plus people signed our petition certainly captured their attention.

A young brown skinned man with short black hair is stood in a dimly lit room presenting to an audience. He is wearing a black tshirt with the bite back logo on it and holding a mic whilst speaking, with his other arm outstretched in a gesture. Behind him there is a screen that reads 'fuel us, don't

Sitting at home in the midst of the nation's third lockdown in January 2021, we at Bite Back noticed how junk food advertising has become increasingly common in our increasingly digital lives. From Spotify, to YouTube videos and even our school homework websites, junk food ads were everywhere. 15 billion junk food ads are seen by young people online in the UK every year. Unhealthy food advertising increases children's recognition of brands, their preference and ultimately their purchases. It’s bad news for our health.

We knew we had to respond, but as young people, we understood that we would struggle to have our voice heard by big whigs in Government. We didn’t have the resources of big food giants, nor the same level of political influence. So we got creative. I wrote an open letter to the Health Secretary and Prime Minister at the time, calling on them to protect young people's health by restricting junk food advertising. To get them to listen, we worked with our tech team to create a genius email action so whenever a member of the public signed the open letter, it also automatically generated an email on their behalf to the government. This way, the voices of our supporters bombarded our elected representatives’ inbox. It worked! The Government replied and agreed to meet with us to hear our concerns.

Simultaneously, we worked with an independent expert to confirm if our suspicions about industry tactics were correct. We took our ground-breaking research to virtual parliamentary receptions with MPs and Lords from all parties.

We often found ourselves in a heated debate with the lobbyists from multinational companies but that only strengthened our resolve. At the same time, the food and advertising lobby were stepping up their game but this was no match for a heartfelt conversation between an MP and a constituent struggling to find and afford a nutritious meal. After many virtual briefings to gather support in the Houses of Commons and Lords, we succeeded — our campaign was mentioned in the chambers. This started a chain reaction. We shared evidence and our lived experience with officials at Downing Street, campaigning non-stop to ensure this policy would pass. Then it happened.

The day was indescribable. Whilst walking home after a GCSE exam, I got a call from Sara, our youth board manager at Bite Back. She screamed: “Dev we won! Johnson’s government is restricting online and TV junk food advertising, and it will be included in the Queen’s Speech." I had never walked out of an exam that happy… ever. Fighting for child health whilst balancing all that comes with being a student was exhausting, but worth it.

Dev is a young brown-skinned man with short black hair and a grey jumper on. He is stood in a room addressing a member of Parliament, and has his hands gesturing as he speaks. He is stood in between Alice, a young blonde girl, and Caroline, a woman with reddish-brown hair.

This was a personal victory, too. I’m now fully aware that the food system is working against me. My friends drink smoothies because they’re marketed as healthy, but they contain nearly as much sugar as a can of Coca-Cola. My friends struggle with accessing healthy food because they have grown up in food deserts. These shared lived experiences are at the core of my passion and my campaigns. As I fight for a better future for me, my family, and my friends, I know that health is super important; but also tenacity, resilience, optimism, enthusiasm and a bit of masti.

Update: This was a massive win for children's health, but the fight isn’t over. The policy has been delayed — now until October 2025. That means that children continue to be exposed to junk food adverts online. I don’t want my community to fall victim to Government inaction. I want to hold the Government to account for prioritising the revenue generated by the junk food industry over the health of young people. We’re continuing to hold politicians to account and we’re also looking to the future, at issues like junk food companies sponsoring sports. The skills I learnt leading a national campaign make me more aware of my ability to impact my community.

Author Bio


Part of the Bite Back movement since the very start, Dev was recently elected Youth MP for West Hampshire, and is also an ambassador for the Food Foundation. The Leicester-based young activist has been recognised by the UK Parliament as Volunteer of the Year for leading our successful campaign to end junk food advertising online – as announced in the Queen's Speech. Dev received the prestigious Diana Award in 2020 for his tireless efforts to end food poverty.