Hundreds of thousands of children exposed to several minutes of junk food adverts during their favourite TV show

Children watching just one episode of Britain’s Got Talent saw over four and a half minutes of adverts for unhealthy food and drinks – including pizza, burgers, ice cream, cake and chocolate biscuits, analysis by the Obesity Health Alliance (OHA) shows.

Research shows that seeing 4.4 minutes of food advertising is associated with children eating 60 more calories a day[i] – and eating as little as 46 extra calories each day can lead to excess weight in children.[ii] This new analysis shows that such levels can be reached during just one TV show, demonstrating how popular family TV shows are used to ensure unhealthy food and drinks are kept firmly in the spotlight in children’s minds.

The OHA studied the adverts featured before 9pm, during six live episodes of Britain’s Got Talent shown over one week in May and June 2019. Britain’s Got Talent is the most popular TV show with children aged 4-15, regularly watched by hundreds of thousands of children.[iii] Yet under the current rules, it is not classed by the Advertising Standards Authority as a TV show ‘of particular appeal’ to children.

Analysis revealed:

  • Over one in five (23%) of all adverts shown before 9pm was for a food or drink high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS). This rose to nearly 30% in the episode shown on 30th May.
  • A child who watched all six episodes shown during the week up to 9pm would see over 22 minutes of unhealthy food and drink adverts – which could lead to them eating an additional 300 plus calories.
  • Just 2% of all adverts analysed were for fruit or vegetables. Despite ITV’s sponsorship of the flagship Veg Power initiative, not a single Veg Power advert was shown.


Caroline Cerny, Alliance Lead at the Obesity Health Alliance said:

This analysis clearly demonstrates how the food industry makes sure their sugary and high calorie food products are kept firmly centre stage in children’s minds. This type of advertising is clearly linked with children going on to eat more calories than they need.  

A comprehensive 9pm watershed on unhealthy food adverts on TV and online would ensure children can enjoy their favourite programmes without being flooded by adverts for pizza, burgers and ice cream.”

Malcolm Clark, Policy Manager at Cancer Research UK adds: “The world we live in doesn’t make it easy to be healthy, and children are especially vulnerable to the onslaught of adverts that nudge us towards foods loaded with fat, salt and sugar.

“Research shows that time spent online and watching commercial TV quickly adds up and makes children more likely to ask for, buy and eat junk food – which is why the industry bombards them with unhealthy messages. Government and regulators must step in to protect the health of the next generation.”

This analysis is a snapshot content analysis of one TV programme popular with children, but it provides an important real-world of example of the scale of unhealthy food adverts seen by children. Research by Kantar, commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport estimated that children see 2.3 minutes of HFSS advertising a week. This figure was based on average exposure across the population.  This analysis shows that hundreds of thousands children saw double this amount, during just one TV programme.

The OHA wants to see a 9pm watershed on junk food adverts implemented across all media devices and channels – including live TV, TV on demand, radio, all types of online, social media, apps, in-game, cinema and digital outdoor advertising such as billboards.

Online polling[iv] reveals that public also support these measures to protect children from the harmful effects of junk food marketing, with:

  • 72% supporting a 9pm watershed on junk food adverts during popular family TV shows
  • 70% supporting a 9pm watershed on junk food adverts online

One in three children in England leaves primary school with excess weight, increasing their risk of developing serious health conditions like Type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart and liver disease in later life.



For a copy of report, or to speak to an OHA spokesperson, please contact:

Caroline Cerny / / 07879 812306


Date of Britain’s Got Talent Live Show episode (all figures relate to 7.30-9pm)  
27.05.19 28.05.19 29.05.19 30.05.19 31.05.19 02.06.19 All shows
No. of child viewers aged 4-15[v] 803,000 737,000 785,000 673,000 686,000 914,000
No. of adverts shown 59 52 55 55 51 45 317
No. of food and drink adverts shown 22 21 23 25 21 16 128
No. of HFSS food and drink adverts shown 14 10 12 16 11 9 72
% of food adverts that are HFSS 64 48 52 64 52 56 56
% of all adverts that are HFSS 24 19 22 29 22 20 23
HFSS advert exposure (secs) 230 170 250 278 170 250 1348
Additional kcals consumed 52 39 57 63 39 57 306


List of HFSS adverts shown between 7.30-9pm during 30th May episode

  • Chocolate selection pack (Marks & Spencer)
  • Sausage roll (Marks & Spencer)
  • Meat pizza (Marks & Spencer)
  • Cheeseburger pizza (Dominos)
  • Moophoria cookie dough ice cream (Ben & Jerrys)
  • Cheeseburger (Marks & Spencer)
  • Different types of takeaway food (Just Eat)
  • Butter (Anchor)
  • Hot dogs (Marks & Spencer)
  • South Carolina Stack burger (McDonalds)
  • Pepperoni pizza (Goodfellas)
  • Chilli glazed camembert (Marks & Spencer)
  • Actimel shot (Actimel)
  • Ice cream (Carte D’Or)
  • Chocolate fingers (Cadbury)
  • Colin Caterpillar cake (Marks & Spencer)

[i] Russell SJ, Croker H, Viner RJ (2019). The effect of screen advertising on children’s dietary intake: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Rev.

[ii] Plachta-Danielzik S, Landsberg B, Bosy-Westphal A, Johannsen M, Lange D, Muller M. Energy gain and energy gap in normalweight children: longitudinal data of the KOPS. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2008, 16(4).

[iii] Ofcom (2019). Children and parents media use and attitudes: annex 1

[iv] All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2078 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 12th – 13th February 2019.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

[v] BARB weekly audience data downloaded from . The figure given is Total Audience: the consolidated viewing audience for the programme. This is the sum of the live, viewing-on-same-day-as-live and time-shifted audiences.