Food ads make fat kids eat more, study

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

A study at the University of Liverpool has shown up a strong
tendency for children to eat more after watching food adverts on TV
- a finding that lends support to recent UK curbs on junk food
advertising around children's programmes.

The first stage of controversial new restrictions on advertising of foods to children came into force in the UK yesterday following much heated debate, particularly around the Food Standards Agency's nutrient profiling model. The team of psychologists conducted their study on a group of children aged between nine and eleven years, of varying weights and body mass indices. The children were shown a series of food advertisements and toy advertisements, followed by a cartoon. They were then allowed to eat food of differing far content at will - ranging from high fat sweet snacks to low fat savoury foods. Their findings, to be presented this week at the European Congress on Obesity in Budapest, showed a remarkable increase in consumption after watching the food ads, and this was particularly pronounced in the heaviest children. The normal weight children increased their food intake by 84 per cent after the food adverts, the overweight children by 101 per cent, and the obese children by 134 per cent. The researchers also identified a correlation between weight and food preference, with obese kids said to have consistently opted for chocolate (the highest fat food available to them). Overweight kids, meanwhile, tended to choose between lower-fat jelly sweets and chocolate. The full study results have not been seen by The University of Liverpool cites 14 per cent of children as being presently classed as obese in the UK, a statistic that presents a grim future for the future of public health in the country. While the food industry has made a concerted effort to reformulate products to make them healthier. For instance, the Food and Drink Federation claims that its latest survey shows that members have reformulated £7.4bn worth of products to have lower levels of salt compared to the year before, while £2.4bn worth of products have been launched with lower salt variants. ​In addition, 25 food and drink companies and five leading supermarket retailers have opted to put at-a-glance Guideline Daily Amounts (GDA) information on the front of pack, which means the GDA icons are now appearing on the front of more than 10,000 lines. But the general opinion is that food is only part of the equation when it comes to combating obesity. The food industry has not been welcoming of the advertising curbs, particularly since a judgement call on what is allowed and what not is made using the FSA's nutrient profiling model. Foods that can be advertised in and around children's programmes are determined by a nutrient profiling model that uses a scoring system to balance beneficial nutrients like protein, fibre, fruit, vegetables and nuts, against components children should eat less off - namely energy, saturated fats, salt and sugar. However nutrient profiling method has also been criticized as 'unscientific', despite having the backing of the FSA's Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition. The curbs are being introduced in several stages. As of this month, advertisements for foods high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) are not permitted in or around programmes made for children (including pre-school children), or in or around programmes that are likely to be of particular appeal to children aged four to nine. From 1 January 2008, HFSS advertisements will not be permitted in or around programmes made for children (including pre-school children), or in or around programmes that are likely to be of particular appeal to children aged four to 15. Children's channels will be allowed a graduated phase-in period, with full implementation required by the end of December 2008. The move was originally conceived by advertising regulator Ofcom to restrict advertising around programmes of specific interest to the under-9s, and the extended to young people up to the age of 16 years has been a particular bone of contention.

Related topics: R&D

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