Caroline Cerny, Alliance Lead, Obesity Health Alliance
Feb 27, 2018
“With the [take-away pizza] advert like they're just so cool and they're so yum... We always have to go and get it because I can’t resist not going without when I see the advert... At the end he like smashes… the pizza on the screen and you feel like you're just going to lick the screen.”
Year 4 boy, participant in qualitative research report ‘Ad Brake’ by Cancer Research UK (2016)
Advertising works. This is why brands invest over £20 billion on advertising their products to us every year, hoping to entice us to want to ‘lick the screen’ with desire, before rushing off to buy that product.
Little surprise then, that there is a wealth of evidence showing that watching food adverts influences children’s food choices, both in terms of what they choose to eat and how much they eat. It can also result in children ‘pestering’ their parents, prompting more purchasing of unhealthy foods that would otherwise not have been bought.
This is why in 2007 the Government introduced regulations to limit children’s exposure to junk food adverts. But these rules are currently failing our children. This is because the rules only apply to kid’s TV channels or programmes made just for children and therefore cover just 26% of children’s TV viewing time.
The number of children watching TV peaks between 6-9pm when popular family TV shows like The X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here are shown. Research from the University of Liverpool, commissioned by the Obesity Health Alliance in 2017 monitored programmes popular with children during this time and found that nearly 60% of the food and drink adverts shown were for foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS).
The research found that in the case of one programme popular with children, children were bombarded with nine junk food adverts, including burgers, pizzas, sweets and biscuits, in just a 30-minute period.
Adverts for fruit and vegetables accounted for just over 1% of food adverts. This is despite Government advice that fruit and vegetables should make up over a third of our diet. Of all the food and drink adverts shown during the OHA’s prime time TV study, fast food was the most frequently advertised category with fast food adverts appearing more than twice as often as any other food advert. How can we expect parents to make healthy choices for their children when they are bombarded with marketing so heavily skewed to unhealthy options?
The rules that are meant to protect children from junk food adverts are now ten years old. They weren’t strong enough ten years ago and they are still aren’t now.
Junk food advertising restrictions need to be extended so that they apply to all the programmes watched by children. Extending existing regulations with a 9pm watershed on junk food adverts would protect children from being exposed to unhealthy food during the programmes they watch the most.
Reversing the devastatingly high levels of childhood obesity needs strong action on all fronts. The Government has laid a foundation with their current Childhood Obesity Plan, but now need to go further.
Efforts to create a healthier environment for our children will be undermined if children are still confronted with numerous tempting fatty and sugary foods every time they watch their favourite shows. Bringing in a 9pm watershed on junk food adverts would represent a very real watershed moment for children’s health.
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