Children being targeted by junk food ads during family television shows, research finds

Analysis found that over a fifth of adverts during shows such as the X Factor were for food

Children are being “saturated” with junk food advertisements during prime time TV slots, research has found.

Youngsters who sit up to watch family-orientated television shows, such as the X Factor  and Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, are being bombarded with up to 11 unhealthy food adverts an hour, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) said.

In an analysis of more than 750 adverts from prime time television, the charity found that more than a fifth (22 per cent) were for food.

More than one in 10 (13 per cent) of these were for fast food chains and 12 per cent were for chocolate and sweet companies, according to the research.

And a quarter of food adverts were for “unhealthy food products from supermarkets”, BHF said.

The authors of the research reported that the food adverts “seem” to be aimed at a young audience, with more than half of ads using children, or “child-aged characters”, to promote their products.

BHF is leading a group of organisations, collectively called Action on Junk Food marketing, which commissioned the research.

The alliance has called for the Government and Ofcom to take action in light of their findings and has launched a new petition calling for minsters to ban junk food marketing for children.

Current legislation bans junk food advertising during children’s programmes, but for many youngsters their viewing peaks around 8pm.

"Parents don't expect their children to be bombarded with ads for unhealthy food during prime time TV, but that's exactly what happens," BHF chief executive Simon Gillespie said.

"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 9pm and putting rules in place to stop children becoming fair game for internet marketing."

Professor Mitch Blair, officer for health promotion at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: "Extending the ban to 9pm would not only have a positive effect in changing behaviours, but it would also send a clear message to the industry.

"Children should not be commercially exploited and the advertising industry must take some responsibility for helping tackle the growing problem of childhood obesity."

A Government spokesman said: "The Government continues to keep this area under review and recognises that there are calls for increased restrictions on junk food advertising.

"It is widely accepted that advertising is just one aspect in determining children's choice of food, and the current rules are therefore just one part of the package aimed at tackling childhood obesity and poor diet.

"The Government is taking action, including through Change4Life and the Responsibility Deal, to ensure children get the best start possible in life and to make it easier for families to make healthier choices and follow a balanced diet."

Shadow public health minister Luciana Berger said: "One third of children in England are either overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school and the Government should be doing everything it can to tackle this crisis.

"Yet every day children are being exposed to persuasive adverts for foods and drinks that are high in fat, sugar or salt - the very ingredients from which the current regulations were designed to protect them.

"With health problems associated with being overweight or obese costing the NHS more than £5 billion every year, ministers must act now to ensure that the rules around advertising junk food to children are fit for purpose."

Additional reporting by Press Association

Read more: People who live or work near takeaways 'twice as likely to be obese'
Less than 1% of public health budget is used to treat obesity in children
'Sugar is the new tobacco'