Advertising from the Children With Cancer UK charity, seen in March 2017, featured the claim “fighting the UK’s biggest child killer”:
a. A TV ad featured several visual shots of the charity’s logo which included the claim “fighting the UK’s biggest child killer”.
b. The website www.childrenwithcancer.org.uk, included the charity’s logo which included the claim “fighting the UK’s biggest child killer”. Text at the bottom of the page stated “The strapline for Children with Cancer UK is 'fighting the UK's biggest child killer'. In 2015, cancers, followed by diseases of the nervous system, remained the most common causes of death for children aged 1 to 15 years. Source: UK Office of National Statistics 'Statistical bulletin - Childhood mortality in England and Wales:2015' Published April 2017. See Section 7.”
The complainant, who believed that congenital heart defects killed more children than all childhood cancers combined, and who understood that statistical data indicated that cancer was not the highest cause of child deaths in the UK, challenged whether the claim “fighting the UK’s biggest child killer” was misleading and could be substantiated.
Children With Cancer UK stated that information was provided on their website to clarify the claim “fighting the UK’s biggest child killer”, namely that, in 2015, cancer followed by diseases of the nervous system, remained the most common causes of death for children aged 1 to 15 years.
They provided the document “UK Office of National Statistics Statistical bulletin (ONS) Childhood mortality in England and Wales: 2015”, published April 2017. They said the official childhood mortality statistics, as set out in the report showed that cancer was still the leading cause of death in children aged 1 to 15. It stated that, in 2015, cancers, followed by diseases of the nervous system, remained the most common causes of death for children aged 1 to 15 years.
They said ONS generally used three categories to describe the different age groups, namely ‘infants, children and young people’. They believed that the terms “baby”, “infant”, “child”, “teenager” and “young people” were widely used and had varying age boundaries. They considered the terms needed to be evaluated in the context that they were used. As they categorised patients in a similar way to other organisations, and qualified the tagline on their website, they did not consider the claim “fighting the UK’s biggest child killer” was misleading.
Clearcast confirmed they had seen substantiation for the claim and provided it to the ASA. They stated that a report from Public Health England which looked at childhood mortality in the UK, and internationally between 2005 and 2010, demonstrated that between the same period, cancer remained the most frequent medical cause of death for children under the age of 15 in the UK. This was further supported by the 2015 report from the ONS which the advertisers had referred to.
Clearcast considered the claim would be understood in the context of life-threatening contractible illnesses, rather than general actions which resulted in death, which might include societal and psychological factors, such as suicide. They therefore considered that the claim was not misleading and was supported by relevant evidence.
The ASA considered consumers would understand Children With Cancer UK's claim "fighting the UK's biggest child killer" to mean that cancer was the leading cause of death in children in the UK compared to any other disease. We did not consider that the claim would be understood to mean that cancer was the leading cause of death compared to all other diseases combined.
We noted that Children With Cancer UK had based the claim on children aged 1 to 15 and understood that Clearcast had considered that the claim would be interpreted to exclude deaths caused by external factors.
We considered consumers would be generally aware that for the first 6–12 months of their lives, newborns and babies were particularly vulnerable to a range of specific factors and illnesses related to their very young age. On that basis, we considered consumers would be likely to draw a distinction between babies and children, particularly in the context of a claim from a children's cancer charity.
We also considered that the claim "the UK's biggest child killer" was likely to be understood as a comparison with other diseases, rather than with causes of death from external factors such as accidents, road traffic accidents, assault or abuse.
We therefore considered that the interpretation adopted by the advertiser and Clearcast was likely to be in line with consumer understanding of the claim. We also acknowledged that the website expressly set out a qualification that the claim was based on "causes of death for children aged 1 to 15 years".
We looked at the evidence provided and noted that the ONS report stated that "In 2015, cancers, followed by diseases of the nervous system, remained the most common causes of death for children aged 1 to 15 years", but understood that the data related to England and Wales only. We noted, however, that the report from Public Health England did refer to the UK as a whole and stated "Despite continuing advances in treatment and consequent improvements in survival rates, cancer remains the most frequent medical cause of death for children in industrialised countries including the UK. This report presents mortality data for cancer among children under 15 years of age in the UK and 53 other countries up to 2010".
We acknowledged that the complainant maintained that congenital heart defects had caused more deaths than childhood cancer. We noted that the ONS report stated that "[The] most common cause of death for Asian babies born in 2014 was congenital nomalies. Using combined ethnic groups, the most common cause of death for White babies was immaturity related conditions, accounting for 41.5% of deaths".
We considered that the ads' claim would not be understood to relate to a particular ethnic group, but to the UK child's population as a whole.
We were also made aware of UK-wide data from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health dated May 2014, which indicated that cancer was not a significant cause of death for babies under 12 months of age, whereas congenital illnesses made up 25% of deaths for that age group. However, the data also indicated that for all other age groups up to the age of 15, cancer was the leading cause of death, compared to death caused by the other categories listed, namely: external factors (road traffic accidents, assault, abuse, drowning, falls, accidental poisonings, suffocation and undetermined intent); congenital; nervous system and developmental; and respiratory. There was one exception, namely the age range 1– 4 years, where the leading cause of death was jointly held by cancer and the range of external factors listed above; they each caused 15% of deaths.
Because the claim "fighting the UK's biggest child killer" appeared in ads for a children's cancer charity, and that, in that context, we considered that "child" would not generally be understood to include babies under 12 months, and because we considered we had seen sufficient evidence to support that claim, we concluded that the ads were not misleading.
We investigated ad (a) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 (Substantiation), but did not find it in breach.
We investigated ad (b) under BCAP Code rules 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 3.9 3.9 Broadcasters must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that the audience is likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation), but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.