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UK Food Advertising Regulations Have Done Little To Address Exposure Of Children To Unhealthy Food Marketing

Regulations brought in by the to reduce the volume of of unhealthy foods to children appear to have little impact on the advertising around programmes children actually watch, according to research presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK. The research is by and , University of Liverpool, UK, and colleagues.

The authors did an analysis of on television in the UK in 2008 (when some regulation was in place) compared to 2010 (when new regulations had fully taken effect). UK television was recorded from 6am to 10pm for a weekday and a weekend day in every month between January-December 2008 and again in 2010 for 14 of the most popular commercial channels broadcasting children’s/family viewing. Recordings were screened for advertisements, which were coded according to predefined criteria including whether they were broadcast in peak/non-peak children’s viewing time.  Food advertisements were coded as core (healthy)/non-core (unhealthy)/miscellaneous foods.

The researchers found there was a slight reduction in the overall % of food advertisements (13% in 2008 to 12% in 2010). There was a reduction in advertising of both core (26% to 19% of FA) and non-core foods (64% to 58%), both going down as advertising for miscellaneous products including supermarkets, tea, coffee, and vitamins went up. There were rises in the proportion of FA that were for confectionery (9% to 11%), full-fat dairy products (4% to 9%) and high fibre/low sugar breakfast cereals (7% to 8%). Food advertising during dedicated children’s programming fell between 2008 and 2010 (11% to 4%). Dr Boyland says: “The regulations arehaving an effect on dedicated children’s programming, however the majority of children’s viewing takes place outside of this, during family viewing hours. Thus the impact of the regulations on advertising around the programmes children actually watch is very small.”

Professor Halford says: “Unhealthy food advertising still dominated in 2010. Regulations governing TV advertising of food in the UK principally addressed child-dedicated programming. However, they have only had a minimal impact on food advertising in and around the programming children actually watch–that extends well beyond defined children’s broadcasting times–and there is no evident shift towards an emphasis on healthier dietary options. The rules should be re-examined to address this weakness.”

The authors add that despite the lack of impact of the regulations, the UK Government and OFCOM (the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries) have stated that they are not looking to make further changes.


Source: European Congress on Obesity (ECO)