Children are seeing “Up to 12 Adverts Per Hour” For Junk Foods During Primetime TV

Wednesday 29h November 2017

Primetime family television shows are showing up to twelve adverts per hour for junk food high in fat, salt and sugar, a study by a research team at Liverpool University has found, leading to concerns that children are “bombarded” by adverts for unhealthy food by loopholes in the law.

Nutrition experts are claiming the loopholes are “failing children” and call for a 9:00 PM watershed on unhealthy food, whilst a government spokesman notes that advertising regulations in the UK are some of the toughest in the world.

Currently, the laws for junk food advertising, as enshrined in 2007, restrict the advertising of what the Advertising Standards Agency deems foods high in fat, salt and sugar (or “HFSS” foods). They are completely banned during shows aimed at children or where three-quarters of the audience will be children. These recent rules also include “TV-like” content, such as that advertised on Youtube and other video sharing platforms.

Where there is a gap in legislation, according to health bodies, is that many thousands of children watch family programmes which are not necessarily aimed at children. The study looked at five shows in particular: animated sitcom The Simpsons, teen-based soap opera Hollyoaks, athletic game show Ninja Warrior UK, Manchester soap opera Coronation Street and primetime talent show The Voice.

One episode of the Voice shown in February was watched on average by over 700,000 children, and contained twelve adverts for HFSS foods. This included their sponsorship for Domino’s takeaway pizza, which meant adverts were shown before and after every advert break. Proportionately more damning figures were found for Hollyoaks, also sponsored by Domino’s Pizza, which featured 9 adverts for unhealthy food over a thirty minute block.

The Obesity Health Alliance, a coalition of medical organisations and health charities worked with Liverpool University on the study, and alson found that three quarters of adverts shown on The Voice, including their primary sponsorship, would not have been allowed were Ofcom to apply the guidelines used for Children’s programming, and called for a junk food watershed for advertising, as well as a ban on sponsorship by brands associated with “junk food”.

The main concern is that children are considered to be more impressionable, with Advertising Association’s research on the impressionability of children shows that children are less capable of understanding that adverts have the intent of selling a product until the age of 12, and so advertising junk food, with the vivid imagery that is the standard of the advertising industry is going to have a level of pull on children that perhaps isn’t the case with people who are older.

With recent surveys showing that nearly one third of children in the UK were by the end of primary school considered overweight or obese, significant action is required to ensure children are eating and drinking healthily and avoiding tooth decay, obesity and type-2 diabetes. With a sugar tax looming as well as other measures to reduce the amount of fat, sugar and salt in our diets, while the government have not pushed for a junk food watershed, perhaps it is the missing link to government policy.