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The extent of food advertising to children on UK television in 2008


Correspondence: Dr Emma J. Boyland, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Liverpool, Eleanor Rathbone Building, Bedford Street South, Liverpool, L69 7ZA, UK. Tel: +44 (0) 151 794 1478. Fax: +44 (0) 151 794 6937.


Objective. To provide the most comprehensive analysis to date of the extent of food advertising on UK television channels popular with young people following regulatory reform of this type of marketing activity. Methods. UK television was recorded 06:00–22:00 h for a weekday and a weekend day every month between January and December 2008 for 14 of the most popular commercial channels broadcasting children's/family viewing. Recordings were screened for advertisements, which were coded according to predefined categories including whether they were broadcast in peak/non-peak children's viewing time. Food advertisements were coded as core (healthy)/non-core (unhealthy)/miscellaneous foods. Results. Food and drinks were the third most heavily advertised product category, and there were a significantly greater proportion of advertisements for food/drinks during peak compared to non-peak children's viewing times. A significantly greater proportion of the advertisements broadcast around soap operas than around children's programmes were for food/drinks. Children's channels broadcast a significantly greater proportion of non-core food advertisements than the family channels. There were significant differences between recording months for the proportion of core/non-core/miscellaneous food advertisements. Conclusions. Despite regulation, children in the UK are exposed to more TV advertising for unhealthy than healthy food items, even at peak children's viewing times. There remains scope to strengthen the rules regarding advertising of HFSS foods around programming popular with children and adults alike, where current regulations do not apply. Ongoing, systematic monitoring is essential for evaluation of the effectiveness of regulations designed to reduce children's exposure to HFSS food advertising on television in the UK.