1. Hours spent watching television and exposure to food advertising directly correlates with poor eating habits and increased food intake by children.
2. Food and beverage cues were often presented in the context of positive motivating factors and infrequently in the context of healthy food messaging.
Evidence Rating Level: 3 (Average)
Study Rundown: Children are known to be susceptible to food and beverage messaging exposure through television watching. Children aged 6-11 watch approximately 3.5 hours of television daily in the United Kingdom (UK). This study analyzed broadcasting geared towards children in Ireland and the UK during 2010 to determine the frequency and types of food cues. Researchers found that unhealthy food cues, for fast-food, pastries and sweets, and sugar-sweetened beverages were much more common than healthy cues. These cues were often placed in the context of positive motivating factors and only rarely in the context of health-related messaging. Strengths of the study include systematic coding methodology and a pilot period to obtain inter-investigator reliability. Limitations include limited hours of recording review and that recordings were from four years ago. This study adds to our understanding of the landscape of unhealthy food and beverage advertising within the UK and Ireland, and helps provide support for more targeted television broadcasting laws to limit children’s exposure to unhealthy messaging.
In-Depth [observational analysis]: This study analyzed content from five weekdays of primetime children’s television broadcasting, totaling 82.5 hours, in the UK and Ireland between July and October of 2010. Two investigators individually reviewed recorded programs for food or beverage cues and coded each cue by type of product, healthy vs. unhealthy, context including characters, motivation, and outcomes. Data was analyzed using chi-squared testing and independent t-tests. 1,115 food and beverage cues were recorded, with an average of one cue per 4.2 minutes. 47.5% of food cues were of unhealthy foods, and 25% of beverage cues were of sugar-sweetened beverages. Cues were most often associated with positive motivating factors, with 25.2% of cues occurring celebratory or social contexts. Health-related messaging was present in only 2% of cues. Cues were generally similar between UK and Irish programming. Significant differences occurred in average length of cue, 21.5 seconds per cue in UK and 13.3 seconds per cue in Ireland (p<0.01), types of unhealthy foods and beverages depicted, more fruit and sweets in UK and more breads/grains in Ireland. Cues were more visual in UK and more verbal in Ireland.
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