Researchers from the University of Liverpool have found that young people are exposed to advertisements that promote unhealthy food during primetime TV, which are normally banned from children’s programming.
An analysis of more than 750 ads found that almost one in four TV ads shown between 8-9 p.m. were for food, and it was possible for viewers to be exposed to as many as 11 ads for junk food per hour.
Within these food ads, the most frequently shown ads promoted unhealthy products from supermarkets such as Aldi and Morrisons (25 percent), followed by fast-food chains such as KFC (13 percent), with chocolate and sweet companies like Lindt and Haribo the third most common (12 percent).
Children’s viewing peaks at 8 p.m.
Figures also showed that children’s TV viewing peaks around 8 p.m., but laws created to protect children from targeted ads don’t typically cover this time.
The study found that the clips shown between 8-9 p.m. were designed for a young audience, with nearly a third of food ads shown using themes of ‘fun’ rather than more adult concerns of price or convenience. They also found that over half of the clips used children or child-aged characters to promote their food.
Promotion of unhealthy food products continues after the ads have been broadcast with around a third of the ads studied ending with a website or twitter hashtag – a key way of reaching teenagers, as 36 percent of 8- to 15-year-olds use smartphones or laptops ‘most times’ when watching TV.
Psychologist, Dr. Emma Boyland from the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society said “our research found a glaring loophole in junk food marketing between the time when most children are watching television and the time covered by regulation, and this needs to be closed.
To shield younger audiences from persuasive promotion, ads for unhealthy food need to be pushed back until after the 9 p.m. watershed. This should be combined with consistent regulation online to stop children being bombarded with Internet advertising.”
The research was commissioned by Action on Junk Food Marketing, an alliance of concerned organizations headed by the Children’s Food Campaign and the British Heart Foundation (BHF), which wants the Government and Ofcom to take action to protect children from junk food marketing.
Simon Gillespie, Chief Executive of the BHF, said “parents don’t expect their children to be bombarded with adverts for unhealthy food during primetime TV, but that’s exactly what happens.”
Government should protect children
“Even when the show is over, junk food marketers could be reaching out to young people online. A lack of regulation means companies are free to lure kids into playing games and entering competitions – all with a view to pushing their product.
“We want the government to protect children by switching off junk food adverts on TV until after 9 p.m. and putting rules in place to stop children becoming fair game for Internet marketing,” said Gillespie.