Call for junk food ads to be banned from on-demand services

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Health campaigners want junk food advertising restricted on TV, as well as on-demand services, to protect young children from obesity.

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Campaigners are calling for junk food adverts on TV to be pushed to after the watershed

The call from the Obesity Health Alliance (OHA) follows new analysis by the coalition of more than 40 organisations, which suggests that children watching the Britain’s Got Talent (BGT) final via the ITV Hub, the channel’s on-demand service, were ‘inundated’ by adverts for unhealthy food and drinks.

The OHA says this is worrying given that evidence shows watching food adverts influences children’s food choices, both in terms of what they eat and how much, and argues that measures to tackle their exposure to junk food adverts are ‘vital’.

While only viewers aged 16 and over can sign up for an ITV Hub account to stream TV programmes, the OHA says there is no way to ascertain if children are watching.

According to the OHA, children’s TV viewing peaks between 6-9pm with family shows like BGT and Saturday Night Takeaway among the most watched TV shows by children aged four-15. It also refers to research by Ofcom that shows children like to watch TV on other devices. As a result, the OHA says it is likely that children are also watching these shows via on-demand services through family or parents’ accounts and being ‘inundated by adverts for food and drink high in fat, salt and sugar.

Further findings from the OHA’s analysis reveal:

  • At times, almost one in four adverts shown before and during the BGT final when watched via the ITV Hub were for food and drink high in salt, sugar and fat (HFSS).
  • When excluding programme sponsorships ‘idents’, up to one in three ‘full’ adverts were for such HFSS products, including adverts for burgers, pizza, sugar soft drinks and sweets.
  • During one viewing session, adverts for a fast food chain were broadcast in half of all breaks viewed on demand.
  • Sponsorship of the ITV Hub by Dominos means that everyone visiting the website to view TV shows on demand sees an advert for takeaway pizza, followed by a second advert before the programme starts.

The OHA is now calling for existing restrictions on junk food advertising generally to be extended to programmes broadcast before the 9pm watershed – when watched on live TV or if viewing via on-demand services.

The Government recently announced that it will shortly update the childhood obesity plan to introduce new measures. The OHA says it would like to see ‘robust restrictions’ placed on all junk food advertising as part of a package of measures to help prevent children in the UK becoming overweight or obese.

Caroline Cerny, Obesity Health Alliance lead, said, ‘It is hugely concerning that children could be exposed to so many junk food adverts wherever they watch their favourite shows – be it on live TV or on-demand services. We know that the Britain’s Got Talent final was the most watched programme by children in 2017, and with this year’s final broadcast live until 9:30pm on a Sunday night, it is highly likely that many kids will have caught up with it the following day or after on-demand.

‘The OHA is calling on Government to restrict junk food marketing restrictions with a 9pm watershed on TV. Our analysis reveals that any restrictions placed on TV advertising should also apply to on-demand services, so that parents can rest assured that their children will not be exposed to harmful junk food advertising whenever, and wherever, they watch the shows they love most’.

Commenting on the call to restrict junk food ads on TV and on-demand services, Dr Max Davie, officer for health promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said, ‘Food manufacturers market their products at children because they know it leads to an increase in sales. However, with one-in-three children overweight or obese by the time they start secondary school, and advertising being one of the contributing causes, it is only right that a ban on advertising of products high in salt, sugar and fat, is put in place before 9pm on television and for on demand broadcasts regardless of the time they watch.

‘We know that advertising alone won’t combat this country’s obesity problem so therefore want Government to go one step further. If habits are to change, we need to instil positive behaviours early by teaching children about the importance of nutrition and other healthy behaviours though Personal Social and Health Education (PSHE) lessons. These lessons, which must be statutory and delivered by trained staff, have the power to change the mind-set of a generation and their health outcomes.’

ITV and the Department of Health and Social Care have been contacted for a response.

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