Millions of children exposed to junk food adverts during family TV shows

15 January 2016        

Junk food tieing up children

Today we are calling for a ban on all junk food TV advertising before 9pm, as millions of children are being exposed to junk food adverts during popular shows such as the X Factor and Hollyoaks.

Analysis shows that weak regulations are creating loopholes that mean that food companies can advertise junk food - high in fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt - during programmes watched by children.

One of the most popular programmes for children is the X Factor with up to 1.2 million children aged 4-15 watching.

Shockingly, twelve junk food adverts were shown during just one X Factor show alone, promoting unhealthy snacks such as crisps, chocolates and pizzas.

The current regulations mean that foods high in fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar are only banned from being advertised during children’s programming. This means programmes that fall within adult airtime, yet are watched by high numbers of children, are not covered by the regulation.

Peak viewing for children is between 7 and 8pm when up to 1.8 million children in the UK are glued to their TV screens, time typically classified as adult airtime.
Latest Ofcom figures show that two-thirds (65%) of children watch TV during what is considered adult airtime. 

During last year’s X Factor series, we found over 90 adverts for foods high in fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar, such as Cadbury chocolate, Doritos crisps, Kinder chocolate, Chicago Town pizzas and Haribo sweets, all of which are banned during children’s programming.

Weak regulation also allows programmes such as Hollyoaks, shown between 6:30 and 7pm, to be sponsored by Domino’s Pizza, exposing children to adverts for high-saturated fat and salt pizzas up to four times during every 30-minute episode.

The nation’s leading heart charity says current regulations are ‘failing’ because they are allowing junk food companies to target children with advertising that would be banned during children’s programming.

Food companies exploiting regulatory system

We are calling for the Government to announce a ban on junk food advertising before 9pm as part of a robust Childhood Obesity Strategy that is expected later this month.

Mike Hobday, our Director of Policy, said: “We mustn’t allow food companies to continue to exploit a failing regulatory system that allows them to bombard TV screens with junk food adverts at the times when the highest numbers of children are watching TV.

“The Government needs to look at the evidence and introduce stricter regulations for junk food advertising as part of a robust childhood obesity strategy. This is vital if we’re to help families and children make informed choices about their health.

"By protecting young people against the sophisticated marketing techniques of junk food advertisers we can help tackle the obesity crisis which threatens the heart health of future generations.”

Read more about our campaign to get the government to introduce a sugary drink tax.