Six in 10 food ads on TV push junk food, new study finds

Sunday, August 12, 2018 by

According to a study by researchers from the University of Liverpool, at least six in ten advertisements for food aired on TV during family shows feature junk food like “fast food, takeaways, and confectionery.”

The same ads would have been banned from children’s T.V. shows under U.K. regulations because they prohibit the advertising of food and drinks high in fat, salt, or sugar (HFSS) during children’s programs.

But there is a way to take advantage of loopholes in these regulations, and this means that shows that feature children, even those marketed as “family shows,” are not covered by the same safeguards on HFSS advertising as shows watched only by younger viewers.

A report called “A ‘Watershed’ Moment: Why it’s Prime Time to Protect Children from Junk Food Adverts,” which was commissioned by the Obesity Health Alliance (OHA), referred to data collected and analyzed by Drs. Emma Boyland and Rosa Whalen from the University’s Appetite and Obesity research group. The report tried to look into the extent of this problem and lists possible solutions.

Earlier research by this group showed that television food advertising exposure can affect children’s food preferences, making them opt for high-fat and high-sugar snack foods instead. It can also increase their consumption of these kinds of foods. (Related: Stuffing your face with junk food is as damaging to you as having diabetes.)

The new study examined the T.V. advertising around five T.V. shows aimed at families and are being broadcast on different U.K. television channels. The shows were The Voice (ITV), Ninja Warriors UK (ITV), Coronation Street (ITV), The Simpsons (Channel 4), and Hollyoaks (E4). Hundreds of thousands of children view each episode of these shows.

The researchers revealed that at least six out of ten (or 59 percent) of food and drink ads aired during these shows were for HFSS products. In the worst case scenario, children see at least nine HFSS ads every 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, fruits and vegetables were promoted in only one percent of food and drink ads shown during theses programs. Ads for fast food and takeaways were at least three times more common than other kinds of food and drinks adverts, especially since they often sponsor popular prime-time family shows.

Some proposed solutions for this concern involves extending existing regulations that will restrict HFSS advertising on TV to cover programming beyond those only aimed at children.

Boyland concluded, “Current regulations focus disproportionately on advertising around programming designed for or targeted at children, such as dedicated children’s channels. However, data from the broadcast regulator themselves (OfCom) shows that children spend a majority of their viewing time outside of such programming, instead watching family viewing and more generic entertainment shows such as The Voice where food advertising is far less restricted.”

Healthy snack options for kids

Instead of store-bought snacks full of artificial sugars and flavors, try these healthy snack options for your kids:

  • Whole grain cereal — A bowl of whole grain cereal is full of vitamins, calcium, and fiber. Serve it with milk and fruit for a power-packed snack or breakfast.
  • Cheese Cheese is high in protein, and it is the perfect snack to keep your kids energized until dinner.
  • Fruit smoothies — Smoothies are a good source of nutrients. Mix nonfat vanilla yogurt, 100 percent orange juice, and a banana as the smoothie’s base with various fruits.
  • Strawberries Strawberries are rich in vitamin C, and they’re easy to serve.

You can read more articles about healthy snacks and food options at

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