Date Published: 2 October 2012
Low impact of regulation of TV advertising of junk foods to children
Indications are that regulations introduced to reduce the exposure of children in the UK to advertisments for "junk foods" have had little effect on the TV advertisements actually shown featuring high fat, sugar and/or salt (HFSS) foods. This is the overall conclusion of a recent study at Liverpool University's Institute of Psychology.
Dr Emma Boyland, of Liverpool University's Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, compared food adverts broadcast on the 13 UK TV channels considered most popular with children in February 2008, with those from the same period in February 2010. She found that one year after regulations to limit the number of adverts for unhealthy food products were fully enforced, there had only been a slight reduction in the junk food advertising children were exposed to.
The study revealed that over the two year period the proportion of advertising for food products had been reduced from 13% to 11.7% but that the reduction was in advertising for both healthy and unhealthy foods. Overall the study concluded that TV food advertising in the UK remains dominated by promotions for unhealthy products - with healthier options rarely seen promoted as prominently.
Professor Jason Halford, Head of the Department of Experimental Psychology, said:
" Although advertising of unhealthy foods to children on UK television is now regulated, our study found that this has had very little impact on the advertising of high fat, sugar and/or salt (HFSS) foods children are exposed to. Unhealthy foods are still heavily promoted and healthier options are significantly under-represented.
_ The links between TV advertising and unhealthy diets are well-known so this study shows that TV advertising of unhealthy food products is still a major threat to children's health. Regulations must be re-examined to tackle food advertising not just on child-targeted programming but during the television that children actually watch."
Food advertising during dedicated children's programming did fall between 2008 and 2010 but did not change in prevalence during children's peak viewing times. The study also found that children are still exposed to extensive advertising for HFSS foods during family programmes (such as the X Factor and soap operas) which have large child audiences but escape regulation.
Child Obesity in the UK
Research indicates that TV advertising has a considerable effect on children's food preference and food intake. There are therefore concerns about the connection between the advertising of unhealthy food products and increasing levels of obesity in children (pediatric obesity).
The results and conclusions of the recent study at Liverpool University are consistent with those described in the report `A Junk-free Childhood 2012: Marketing food and beverages to children in Europe' recently published by the International Association for the Study of Obesity. This report concluded that children's exposure to junk food products fell by barely a quarter over the last six years and that self-regulation of advertising of junk food products to children does not work in a highly competitive marketplace such as that of TV advertising.
Main source: Liverpool University