Fresh call to crack down on junk food TV ads to curb teenage obesity

Young people who watch just one extra junk food advert a week consume an additional 18,000 calories every year, a report has claimed.

Teenagers recalled seeing an average of six TV adverts for foods high in fat, sugar or salt (HFSS) across a seven-day period, according to a study by Cancer Research UK.

However, those who remembered watching seven – only one more – were found to eat and drink more of these junk food items.

The report, based on a survey of 3,348 UK participants aged 11 to 19 years old, will be presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Vienna, Austria.

It comes amid growing calls for tougher restrictions on junk food advertising in the UK to tackle the obesity crisis.

The researchers found seeing seven junk food broadcast adverts per week, instead of the average of six, was linked with consumption of an additional 60 HFSS items every year.

This equates to an estimated extra 342 calories per week, or 17,784 calories annually.

Participants who were obese reported watching one extra HFSS advert every week, the researchers added, which they suggest is “a further indication that broadcast marketing could be nudging young people towards harmful long-term weight increases”.

Young people admitted consuming an average of 30 HFSS items per week, including crisps, biscuits and fizzy drinks, but only 16 portions of fruit or vegetables, according to the survey.

Young people admitted consuming around 30 junk food items per week (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The researchers estimate this makes up approximately 6,300 calories every week, between 30 to 40% of their weekly guideline amount.

Around 40% of participants said they felt pressure to eat unhealthily, a figure which rose to 52% among those with obesity.

Cancer Research UK said a 9pm watershed on the content of TV adverts “would be the most effective mechanism” to address junk food eating habits.

“The food industry wouldn’t pump hundreds of millions into advertising their products by creating catchy adverts if it didn’t get people to eat more,” the authors said.

“Broadcast regulations in the UK haven’t been updated since 2008, and our research shows that the current restrictions clearly aren’t working.

“With today’s teens spending more time in front of screens than any other activity apart from sleeping, curbing exposure to junk food ads on streaming platforms as well as TV will be key to helping teens make healthy diet choices and reducing obesity rates.”

An earlier study, published by Cancer Research UK in January, found young people at a healthy weight watched an average of 20 hours of television per week, with just over half of this time spent on streaming platforms.

Obese participants watched around 26 hours, meaning they could be more likely to see more HFSS adverts.

Stephen Woodfood, chief executive of the Advertising Association, said: “Although we have amongst the strictest rules in the world on HFSS advertising to under 16s, it is important to note that we are not complacent to the public health problem or the role advertising can play in helping tackle it.

“One recent, powerful example is ITV’s sponsorship of The Daily Mile, which is a proven, proactive measure to address childhood obesity through getting kids active.

“With this in mind, we continue to believe that all action will be most effective when it is proportionate, evidence-based and effectively targeted where the problem of childhood obesity is most prevalent.”

- Press Association


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