New regulations fail to make TV food adverts healthier for children

February 15, 2012, Newcastle University

Despite new regulations restricting UK TV advertisements for food, children are still exposed to the same level of advertising for junk foods which are high in fat, salt and sugar, researchers have found.

Unexpectedly, academics at Newcastle University also found that since the new restrictions were introduced five years ago, viewers of all ages are seeing many more adverts for unhealthy foods.

In work funded by National Prevention Research Initiative and published today in , the team describe how they examined the of 6 months before new restrictions were introduced in 2007 and then again 6 months after the full restrictions were put in place in July 2009. They linked this data to how many people saw the adverts and discovered that even after the restrictions were in place, 14.6% of adverts seen were for and half of those (51.1%) were for less healthy items such as crisps, sugared breakfast cereals and drinks containing large amounts of sugar.

Although almost all adverts shown during children's programmes adhered to the restrictions, children were still exposed to the same amount of ads for as they had been before the restrictions – because children don't just watch children's programmes.

Dr Jean Adams, Lecturer in Public Health at Newcastle University said: "While adverts stay within the letter of the law, I think we can say we're still not getting the spirit of the law. These regulations were brought in to help young people make better lifestyle choices and encourage a healthier diet. However, what they are seeing is exactly the same amount of advertising for food which is high in salt or high in sugar and fat as before the regulations came in.

"We know advertising works – otherwise food companies wouldn't use it - so we have a duty to further tighten up the restrictions particularly if we're going to help our young people grow up to make good choices about the food they eat."

The restrictions which have been phased in since April 2007, apply to foods prominently displayed in adverts and include non-alcoholic drinks. No adverts for foods that are high in fat, salt or sugar can be broadcast during children's programmes, on children's channels, or during programmes that are expected to attract a lot of child viewers. When introduced by Ofcom, the regulations were intended to reduce significantly the exposure of children to television advertising of foods high in fat, salt and sugar and were seen as a step towards improving children's diets and tackling rising levels of obesity.

The research team used information from a national panel of households who record all television that they watch. Over a one-week period six months before the restrictions were in place there were 104,145 person-minute-views of advertising for food amongst this panel. Of these 40,233 were for unhealthy food – which is 38.6%. During a full week six months after the had been fully implemented in 2009, there were 139,959 person-minute-views of food advertising and of this 60.4% was for unhealthy food – or 84,526 person-minute-views.

The prevalence of obesity in the UK has increased markedly over the last 20 years. In 1993, 12% of men and 16% of women were considered obese. By 2010 26% of both men and women were classified as obese. In 2010-11, 11% of boys and 9% of girls in reception year (aged 4-5 years) were obese; whilst 20% of boys and 17% of girls in year 6 (aged 10-11 years) were obese. By 2050 obesity is predicted to affect 60% of adult men, 50% of adult women and 25% of children.

Explore further: TV food advertising increases children's preference for unhealthy foods

More information: Effect of Restrictions on Television Food Advertising to Children on exposure to Advertisements for 'Less Healthy' Foods: Repeat Cross-sectional Study, Jean Adams, Rachel Tyrrell, Ashley J Adamson, Martin White. PLoS ONE.

Related Stories

TV food advertising increases children's preference for unhealthy foods

June 30, 2011
Researchers at the University of Liverpool have found that children who watch adverts for unhealthy food on television are more likely to want to eat high-fat and high-sugar foods.

The truth about advertising junk food to children: It works

May 10, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Children exposed to advertisements for high-calorie and nutrient-poor foods consume more unhealthy foods overall, regardless of the specific product and brand being marketed, finds a new study from the ...

Recommended for you

Women run faster after taking newly developed supplement, study finds

January 19, 2018
A new study found that women who took a specially prepared blend of minerals and nutrients for a month saw their 3-mile run times drop by almost a minute.

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.