- Amy Smullen
- Policy Officer
- British Heart Foundation
The nation’s oversized waistline is putting our hearts under increasing strain.
We know that obesity puts people at a greater risk of coronary heart disease and having their lives shortened by a heart attack or stroke. But this isn’t just a problem of the here and now. It’s one that’s already waiting in the wings to devastate future generations as well.
Watershed? why we need to ban some food adverts before 9pm
Around 30% of children in the UK are now classed as either overweight or obese. (1) Dietary surveys show that children are also eating too much saturated fat, salt and sugar. (2) Together, these factors put too many children at risk of carrying their excess weight and poor eating habits into adulthood, putting their hearts at risk.
That is why the British Heart Foundation (BHF), alongside many other organisations, such as the Faculty of Public Health want to see advertisements for food and drink that is high in saturated fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) banned before the 9pm watershed.
The BHF are acutely aware that obesity is a complex problem that requires action on lots of fronts. We don’t pretend banning junk food adverts is a magic bullet. But the sad reality is that our children are being bombarded with clever marketing encouraging them to eat products that have little nutritional value whether it’s walking to school, surfing the internet or watching TV at home. Banning these adverts before 9pm and tightening online regulation has to be part of the solution.
So why have we focused in on junk food adverts?
Firstly; because children aren’t like us adults. They cannot distinguish between what is harmless entertainment and what is persuasive advertising (3) and are they are therefore classed as a vulnerable group when it comes to advertising. Industry regulator Ofcom (4) states that ‘media literacy develops with age and … it isn’t until after 11 or 12 years of age that children can articulate a critical understanding of advertising.’
Second, research shows that food promotion, such as TV ads, can influence children’s food preferences and consumption. (5) Adverts also encourage general consumption, meaning that an advert for a specific chocolate bar won’t make you more likely to buy just that specific brand but any chocolate bar in general. (6)
And thirdly, on average our children are spending 27 hours either online or watching TV every week. That averages out at just under 4 hours per day. And it’s not just a few children skewing the average. Over 80% of children aged 5-15 watch the TV almost every day (7).
In 2007, the Government acknowledged that HFSS advertising was a problem, and banned any HFSS adverts during children’s programming. (8) But, while reducing the number they saw, this hasn’t stopped children seeing them.
That’s because adverts which are banned during children’s shows can be shown during family programming. Shows such as The Simpsons, X-Factor, and Britain’s Got Talent are technically classed as ‘family programmes’ despite high child audience levels. (The last two programmes made it into the top 20 programmes most watched by children in 2013.) (9) As such, marketeers are allowed to advertise any product they want. An audit by the University of Liverpool in 2013 showed that almost one in four TV adverts shown between 8-9pm, when children’s viewing peaks, were for food products. (10)
Online, it’s even worse. It’s no secret that our children are online more than ever. Worryingly many of the techniques used to promote food and drinks online blur the lines between persuasion and entertainment, making it difficult for children to identify online marketing. (11)
Take, for example, advergames. These are online games that have a brand or marketing message integrated into them. Where a TV advert may only last for 30 seconds, research has shown that children spend longer engaging with the product message and engage with the brand at a deeper subconscious level. (12)
Adding to this the Committee of Advertising Practice Code, which governs marketing on advertisers own websites and their social media channels, doesn’t distinguish between healthy and unhealthy food.
The code states that “marketing communications should not condone or encourage poor nutritional habits or an unhealthy lifestyle in children’ – but what constitutes ‘condoning and encouraging’ or ‘poor habits’ is not defined.
But isn’t it all down to the parents? Shouldn’t they be policing their children more?
While we agree that parents are responsible for helping children eat a healthy balanced diet, these adverts undermine their efforts to do that. When we asked parents for their views, 70% of them told us that they had been pestered to buy HFSS products that their children had seen advertised on TV and 39% of parents said that these adverts were making it difficult for them to help their children eat a healthy diet. (13)
Over 30,000 people have already signed our petition, which calls on the Government to ban HFSS adverts before the 9pm watershed. Alongside the BHF and Faculty of Public Health the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Children’s Food Campaign, UK Health Forum, The Heart of Mersey, the British Dental Association, Family and Childcare Trust, the Association for the study of Obesity and the University of Liverpool also call for a 9pm watershed ban.
The demand for action is getting stronger and louder.
Help us stop these adverts by signing our petition to send a clear message to the Government that they must stop our children from being bombarded with HFSS adverts to protect their health.
1) British Heart Foundation (2013) ‘Children and Young People Statistics’ http://www.bhf.org.uk/publications/view-publication.aspx?ps=1002326
2) Department of Health (2014) ‘National Diet and Nutrition Survey: Headline Results from Years 1, 2 and 3 (combined) of the Rolling Programme 2008/09 – 2011/12.’
3) E.g. Young B (2003) ‘Does food advertising influence children’s food choices?’ International journal of Advertising 22: 441-459. Hastings et al (2003) ‘Review of the research on the effects of food promotion to children.’ Food Standards Agency
4) Livingstone S (2004) Childhood Obesity – Food Advertising in Context.
5) Ofcom (March 2006) ‘Television Advertising of Food and Drink products to Children: Options for new restrictions: A consultation’ (para 1.8).
6) Hastings et al (2003) ‘Review of the research on the effects of food promotion to children.’ Food Standards Agency.
7) Ofcom (2014)
8) Ofcom (2007) ‘Television advertising of food and drink products to children – final statement.’
9) Ofcom (2014)
10) Boyland, E and Whalen E (2014) ‘Analysis of food adverts shown during a sample of primetime television.’
11) A.Nairn (2009) ‘Changing the rules of the game: implicit persuasion and interactive children’s marketing.’ Berkley Media Studies Group
12) Nairn, A. (2012) ‘Advergames: It’s not child’s play.’
13) British Heart Foundation (2015) survey.