My Topics

20 November 2012

Regulation of Unhealthy Food Advertising Has Minimal Impact

Keywords: advertising, food, teens, television, Western Europe, fast food, intervention, preschoolers, tweens,

Unhealthy food advertising encourages unhealthy food choices among children. Therefore, in 2007, the UK government decided to regulate the amount of unhealthy advertisements shown to kids. The aim of these new regulations was to reduce the exposure of children under the age of 16 years to unhealthy food (HFSS; high fat, salt or sugar) advertisements. Researchers of a PLOS ONE study, tried to find out whether these restrictions imposed the desired results.

Take aways

  • Restrictions on ads for unhealthy foods on all children’s television channels and on non-children’s channels during or around programs of particular appeal to 4–15 year olds in the UK do not have the desired effect.
  • Instead of showing a decrease, children’s exposure to unhealthy food ads has increased after implementation of the scheduling restrictions.
  • This is likely because the scheduling restrictions only apply to children’s programs and not to family programs which have large child audiences.
  • Stronger restrictions seem warranted to reduce children’s exposure to unhealthy food ads. 

Study information

  • The question?

    Are the television regulations (introduced in 2007) regarding food advertisements in the UK successful in decreasing the exposure of children to ads for unhealthy food products?

  • Who?

    288 TV-channels, with a total amount of 1,036,953 advertisements

  • Where?

    Tyne Tees region, UK

  • How?

    Researchers evaluated all advertisements, on all channels, broadcasted in the Tyne Tees region in the UK, during two weeks. The first week was before the regulations were introduced (October 2006). The second week was after the regulations were introduced (July 2009). Researchers registered the amount of (unhealthy) food advertisements shown and calculated how many people were exposed to the advertisements. 

Facts and findings

  • Adherence to the scheduling restrictions was high: after the implementation only one ad broadcasted on children’s channels and non-children’s channels during or around programs of particular appeal to 4–15 year olds was for unhealthy food products (high in fat, salt, sugar).
  • Surprisingly, however, after the regulations were introduced the percentage of unhealthy food ads seen by children was higher than before the regulations were implemented.
  • Specifically, after implementation of the scheduling restrictions, more than half (56%) of television food advertising seen by children was for unhealthy food products, compared to less than half (43%) before the restrictions were implemented.
  • A possible reason for this increase is that rather than reducing unhealthy food advertising, advertisers may have responded to the restrictions by moving their ads to channels and programs that target older age groups (e.g., family programs, such as talent shows and soap operas). Because children are likely to watch these channels and programs as well, their exposure to unhealthy food ads has increased.