Any restrictions placed on junk food advertising on TV must also be extended to on-demand services, say health campaigners.
New analysis by the Obesity Health Alliance (OHA) reveals that children watching the Britain’s Got Talent (BGT) final via ITV Hub were inundated by adverts for unhealthy food and drinks.
The OHA’s findings reveal:
- At times, almost one in four adverts shown before and during BGT final when watched via ITV Hub were for food and drink high in salt, sugar and fat (HFSS).
- When excluding programme sponsorship ‘idents’, up to one in three ‘full’ adverts were for such HFSS products.
- These include, among others, adverts for burgers, pizza, sugary soft drinks and sweets.
- During one viewing session, McDonalds’ adverts were broadcast in half of all breaks viewed on demand.
- Sponsorship of ITV Hub by Dominos means that everyone visiting the website to view TV shows on demand sees an advert for takeaway pizza, followed by a second advert before the programme starts.
On-demand TV services allow viewers to watch programmes online or via smart TVs whenever they want to. These services use the demographic information of the account holder to target adverts. However, only viewers aged 16 and over can sign up for an account on ITV Hub, meaning that adverts are served assuming the viewer is an adult as there is no way to ascertain if children are watching. Switching on parental controls does not prevent HFSS ads from being shown.
Children’s TV viewing peaks between 6-9pm with family TV shows like BGT and Saturday Night Takeaway among the most watched TV shows by children aged 4-15. With over half of 8-11-year-olds and two thirds of 12-15-year-olds regularly watching TV on other devices, it is therefore likely that children are also watching these shows via on-demand services through family or parents’ accounts, and being inundated by adverts for food and drink high in fat, salt and sugar.
Evidence shows that watching food adverts influences children’s food choices, both in terms of what they choose to eat and how much they eat. With 1 in 3 children leaving primary school in England with a weight classed as overweight or obese, measures to tackle their exposure to junk food adverts are vital. To truly protect children, any restrictions on harmful junk food adverts should also apply when they are shown on-demand services, regardless of when they are downloaded or streamed.
That’s why the OHA is calling for existing restrictions on junk food advertising to be extended to programmes broadcast before the 9pm watershed – both when watched on live TV or if viewing subsequently via on-demand services.
Commenting on the analysis, Obesity Health Alliance Lead Caroline Cerny said:
“It is hugely concerning that children could be exposed to so many junk food adverts wherever they watch their favourite shows – be it on live TV or on-demand services. We know that the Britain’s Got Talent final was the most watched programme by children in 2017, and with this year’s final broadcast live until 9:30pm on a Sunday night, it is highly likely that many kids will have caught up with it the following day or after on-demand.
The OHA is calling on Government to restrict junk food marketing restrictions with a 9pm watershed on TV. Our analysis reveals that any restrictions placed on TV advertising should also apply to on-demand services, so that parents can rest assured that their children will not be exposed to harmful junk food advertising whenever, and wherever, they watch the shows they love most”.
The Government recently announced that they will shortly update their childhood obesity plan to introduce new measures. The OHA would like to see robust restrictions placed on all junk food advertising as part of a package of measures to help prevent the UK’s children from becoming overweight and obese.
Britain’s Got Talent Live Final was identified as the most popular programme watched by children in 2017. Two researchers reviewed the adverts shown when watching the episode via ITV On Demand service. The adverts shown were analysed as HFSS or non-HFSS using the Government’s Nutrient Profile Model.
BGT was reviewed in three separate sessions. The researchers logged into their own ITV Player accounts which identified them as over 18.
Session one: (viewed 05.06.17 from desktop PC) 42 adverts shown, 9 were HFSS
Session two: (viewed 05.06.17 from desktop PC) 42 adverts shown, 11 were HFSS
Session three: (viewed 09.06.17 from smart TV, parental controls switched on) 35 adverts shown, 5 were HFSS
A full breakdown of adverts shown is available on request.
 ITV Hub is ITV’s online broadcast video on demand service, accessible through a smart TVs, smartphones, tablets, desktop computers and other internet-enabled devices.
 Ofcom Media Attitudes report 2016 found that 55% of 8-11s and 68% 12-15s watch TV on other devices
 There is very little publically available guidance on how the Nutrient Profile Model is applied so coding of products was based on the research team’s understanding of this process and replicated methods used in previously published papers.