Children's TV 'packed with junk-food references'

Children watching television

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Unhealthy food makes a "startlingly" high number of appearances in children's television shows, researchers say.

Junk-food adverts are restricted during children's television in the UK.

However, a study, published in Archives of Disease in Childhood, found the shows themselves "skewed" towards unhealthy food.

The Children's Food Campaign said children were being bombarded with attractive images of unhealthy food.

Adverts for foods high in fat, salt and sugar aimed at children under 16 are not allowed in the UK.

A team of scientists at the University of Limerick, in Ireland, watched hours of children's television on the BBC and the Irish state-broadcaster RTE.

They found that 48% of food appearances were "unhealthy" such as sweets or chocolate while sugary drinks made up a quarter of all appearances of fluid.

Prof Clodagh O'Gorman, from the University of Limerick, told the BBC: "We were startled by how much food there was and surprised at the type of food consistently represented."

Child with a table full of food Does television influence what children eat?

She said junk food was shown being consumed without consequence.

"Programmes have teenagers after school going to a coffee shop or fast-food outlet, having lots of sugary or high-fat foods and they're all thin and happy, and that's not realistic," she said.

"The foods which should be in eaten in moderation are eaten excessively on TV, and the staples, fruit and vegetables, are very infrequently represented."

However, the impact of the programming on the viewer is not clear cut.

Previous research has suggested a link between advertisements, children developing a "brand affinity" and wanting to consume that particular product.

"Our hypothesis is the children will want to eat fast food in general," Prof O'Gorman said.

Further research would be need to discover if that was true.

In the meantime, Prof O'Gorman called on parents, doctors and regulators to be more aware of the levels of junk food in children's television.

Malcolm Clark, the coordinator of the Children's Food Campaign, said: "It is disappointing that children's TV seems to be so tamely reflecting the obesogenic environment we all live in, rather than presenting a more positive vision of healthy, sustainable food.

"Children are bombarded with attractive images of unhealthy food and drink throughout their day - online, on billboards, in magazines, in shops, and still very much on TV.

"It is all part of the normalising of eating sugary snacks and sugary drinks that the food industry has so successfully achieved.

"We want the government to protect children by drawing up stricter rules, including switching off junk-food adverts on TV until after 21:00 and putting rules in place to stop children becoming fair game for internet marketing."

A BBC spokesperson said: "We broadcast lots of programmes to promote healthy eating to children and to help them understand where food comes from, with series like I Can Cook, Incredible Edibles and Blue Peter."


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  • Comment number 45.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Sorry, but who is responsible for what the children consume? The people who make the TV programmes or the parents?? Seeing someone eat fast food on tv does not automatically make children fat or make a burger automatically appear in front of them. Time the parents stood up and took responsibility instead of jumping into the blame culture. Ridiculous.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Parents can quite easily indoctrinate their kids into not buying into mas marketed produced rubbish. A friend of mines 10 year old rolls her eyes in contempt when she sees adverts for McDs/certain fizzy drinks brands as from a young age has been told exactly what they are made of. She doesn't even see them as an occasional 'treat' - home made cake or ice cream are instead.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    On Friday after school my sons school sells ice creams for 50p, either you get your kids one or you look like a stooge...

    I look like a stooge, it's better that than looking like one of the blobbys in the queue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Sedentary lifestyles are more to blame.

    It doesn't take very long to cook healthy meals and they cost less than ready-meals and take-aways.

    Fill kids up with tasty, healthy meals, snack on fruit, nuts and seeds and then get them out of the house and on their feet more.

    Sweets as treats not the norm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    If you are concerned about health in the uk, prevent people from opening up more than a bajillion kebab shops in the same street!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    More nanny-state intervention. When are these interfering do-gooders going to start actually putting the blame where it belongs when it comes to unhealthy, overweight children - the PARENTS. I don't wish to be penalised, taxed or have my rights infringed because a minority of parents are not fit for purpose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    To believe that childrens opinions are soley formed on what they see on TV is a bit short sighted. You have to factor in Parental messages and other social interaction when attributing how a child develops and what they learn as good/bad

    Plus childrens TV has to have an air of realism, children eat sweets and drink sugary drinks and if the characters on TV didn't then that would seem strange.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    As are only 30% of the way through a Tory draconian austerity package this will soon only be relevant to rich kids whose parents are millionaires. All the others will be dependant on Food Banks and it it will whatever is on its shelves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    I grow veg, as does my neighbours. Our kids are involved in working the garden and seeing it produce food out of the dirt. We share veg, and local farmer deals with us for some eggs. None of our kids are fat, they know how to get soil ready for planting, how to sow, and a book filled with when to sow. My strawberries are fab, no chemicals, kids pick off the rigglies. Potatoes,toms,peas,beans ect

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Oh please no! The route cause of all these ills is parental responsibility or rather, lack of.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Through very poor eating habits instilled in children by very poor parenting, we have a spate of "allergies". When I was young, several decades ago, there were no "nut" allergies or "gluten" allergies... mainly because we were not mollycoddled into foods we liked. We even ate worms and mud!
    And we've pulled through without obesity and allergies. The Americans have a lot to answer for!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    So where are the producers and other people of responsibility at the BBC?. What are they doing? Is it not their job to look at the material & make sure it is suitable for the young audience? Are these people so poorly educated that they don't know that they are giving these messages.Time to look again at the job descriptions of these people & the people who appointed them. there are failures here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    The irony of talking about what children eat when sat watching the TV, seems a little lost here. Get them away from the TV and more exercise, then it won't matter so much about the food.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    "Oh Sebastian look it's a salad vendor, let's have cob salad"

    "But Maisey, we must make sure it's fair trade cob salad, grown in an earth friendly manner without harmful pesticides or herbicides."

    - extract from the new and improved Transformers script.

    Let's be honest, we've made life pretty miserable for adults, why can't we just let the kids have a bit of fun?

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    There is no such thing as bad food. There is such a thing as bad eating habits and Parents should be in control of this.Parents will claim to not have enough time and the 'poor' will claim not enough cash. Both claims are asburd. Fast food, fizzy drinks, ready meals are all fine if you dont base your existence on them.I do large amounts of exercise and eat what I like.Only eat what you can burn EZ

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    "13. steffijade

    Living in the UK is rapidly becoming like living in a police state.. controlled by the 'fun police'.

    These puritanical, finger pointing do-gooders ought to back off and let people take personal responsibility for their own lives and that of their children's where applicable."

    Except they don't take responsibility, do they?

    Take your blinkers off and look around you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Sit up straight. Eat what you're given. Don't get down from the table unless either everyone is finished or you ask permission. Hold your knife and fork properly. No television, toys or telephones during meals.
    Then sort out the actual diet - and many problems solved!

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Manipulating children psychologically to apply pressure to their parents to spend money is pretty disgraceful, really.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    10 essjaydee
    "Junk food companies have three things in their favour that health food companies do not: huge budgets, deviousness and a complete lack of morality."

    Are you kidding? Have you ever read the spurious claims that "health food" companies make? I hope you don't believe them all!


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