The new TV diet - evaluating the effect of the UK 2007 OfCom restrictions on television food advertising to children

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Inst of Health and Society

Abstract

The proportion of children who are overweight or obese in countries like the UK has increased substantially in recent years. There is evidence that food advertisements on television influence what children prefer to eat. Television food advertising may, therefore, contribute to the development of overweight, obesity and related conditions in otherwise healthy children. Whilst the broad types of food advertised on television are known (e.g. breakfast cereals, salty snacks and fast food), there is currently little information available on the exact nutritional content of foods that are advertised (e.g. the proportion of fat, protein and carbohydrate). Nor is it known if individuals of different ages, gender and social background tend to watch different amounts and types of television food advertisements. Restrictions on the advertising of foods high in fat, salt and sugar during children?s programmes began to be phased in in the UK in April 2007. As the UK is the first country to introduce such regulations on television food advertising to children, their effects on what foods are advertised on television, to whom and when are not known.

We will use information supplied by television broadcasters on what advertisements were broadcast, and who watched them, during four separate weeks between October 2006 and July 2009. We will link this to food manufacturer?s information on the nutritional content of foods advertised to answer four research questions: what was the nutritional content of foods advertised on UK television (the ?TV diet?) before, during and after implementation of the 2007 regulations?; were there any changes in the TV diet across these time points?; were there differences in the TV diet according to the age, sex and social background of viewers and, if so, did these vary across the time points?; were the 2007 regulations adhered to? Our results will help in the evaluation, review and revision of the new regulations on television food advertising to children.

The research team includes academic specialists in epidemiologist, public health, nutrition and obesity. The team has conducted previous research in this area and already developed the methods that will be used in this work. The research will be conducted at the same time as similar work in Canada, where new voluntary agreements on television food advertising to children have recently been introduced.

Technical Summary

The prevalence of overweight and obesity in children in developed countries, including the UK, has increased substantially in recent years and is clearly socio-economically patterned. There is evidence that television food advertising influences children?s diets and, therefore, the development of overweight, obesity and related conditions in otherwise healthy children. However, there is currently little detailed data available on the nutritional content of foods that are advertised on television ? either overall or in terms of who is actually watching. Restrictions on the advertising of foods high in fat, salt and sugar during children?s programmes began to be phased in in the UK in April 2007. As the UK is the first country to introduce selective regulations on television food advertising to children, the effect of such regulations on the television advertising landscape are not known.

Using industry data on advertisements broadcast and associated viewing figures during four weeks between October 2006 and July 2009, and manufacturer?s data on the nutritional content of foods advertised, we will answer four research questions: what was the nutritional content of foods advertised on UK television (the ?TV diet?) before, during and after implementation of the 2007 regulations?; were there any changes in the TV diet across these time points?; were there differences in the TV diet according to age, sex and socio-economic position of viewers and, if so, did these vary across the time points?; were the 2007 regulations adhered to? Our analyses will provide a baseline against which future data can be compared, a platform for including the UK in international comparison studies, and necessary data for further development of informed public health nutrition policy.

The research team comprises a high-calibre, multi-disciplinary, international collaboration of epidemiologists, public health specialists, nutritionists and obesity researchers. Previous research, conducted by the current team, has developed the methods to be used here.

This research will be conducted in tandem with similar work in Canada exploring the impact of new voluntary agreements on television food advertising to children there. Funding for the Canadian arm of the research is not being sought, but we will work closely with our collaborators to ensure comparability of methods and results throughout.

This research, based on existing data, is a high quality, low cost, evaluation of one aspect of recent UK public health policy with potential to influence the development of further policy in the UK and elsewhere.

Publications

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Adams J (2009) Food advertising during children's television in Canada and the UK. in Archives of disease in childhood

 
Description Citation in Academy of Medical Royal Colleges
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Impact There has been a substantial increase in debate concerning regulation of TV food advertisements since inclusion of our work in this policy document.
 
Description Scottish MP citation
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
 
Description Evaluation of the impact of a levy on added-sugar soft drinks on sales and purchasing behaviour within Jamie's Italian restaurants.
Amount £47,480 (GBP)
Organisation National Institute for Health Research 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2015 
End 04/2016
 
Description NIHR Doctoral Fellowship for Susanna Mills
Amount £278,679 (GBP)
Organisation National Institute for Health Research 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2014 
End 09/2017
 
Description PHRC Cooking Skills phase 2
Amount £355,849 (GBP)
Organisation Public Health Research Consortium 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2013 
End 02/2015
 
Description Public Health Research Consortium (Junk free checkouts)
Amount £175,000 (GBP)
Organisation Government of Catalonia 
Department Department of Health
Sector Public
Country Spain
Start 04/2016 
End 10/2017
 
Description SPHR Foodscape
Amount £446,646 (GBP)
Organisation National Institute for Health Research 
Department NIHR School for Public Health Research
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2013 
End 03/2016
 
Description Changes in the TV diet - UK vs Canada 
Organisation Duke University Medical Centre
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Taken part in a number of teleconferences and contributed to data collection, analysis, preparation of papers for submission for publication, organisation of conference symposium.
Impact Publications and symposium occured before this award. Collaboration was useful in gaining feedback and support in preparation for submission of application that current grant represents.
Start Year 2007
 
Description Changes in the TV diet - UK vs Canada 
Organisation University of Guelph
Country Canada 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Taken part in a number of teleconferences and contributed to data collection, analysis, preparation of papers for submission for publication, organisation of conference symposium.
Impact Publications and symposium occured before this award. Collaboration was useful in gaining feedback and support in preparation for submission of application that current grant represents.
Start Year 2007
 
Description DH/ASO expert seminar on food advertising in new media 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Invited attendance at an expert seminar hosted by DH on the implications of food advertising in new media (e.g. web, mobile phones etc).

Important networking opportunity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
 
Description ESRC Society Today contribution 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Invited contribution on research of food advertising (800w) written for publication in ESRC Society Today.

None as yet.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009
 
Description Expert seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact 12 expert academics, policy makers and members of pressure groups discussed the results

Made contact with representatives of a number of important groups
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Various radio, TV and newspaper interviews 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation Keynote/Invited Speaker
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Various interviews with national and local TV, radio and newspapers concerning effects of food and alcohol advertising

none
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011,2012