redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
Unhealthy foods and beverages are regularly portrayed in a positive light on children’s television programming in the UK, according to new research currently appearing online in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.
As part of their research, experts from The Children’s Ark at University Hospital Limerick, National Children’s Research Centre, the Centre for Interventions in Infection, Inflammation & Immunity at Graduate Entry Medical School, the University of Limerick, and Dalhousie University looked at how different types of food and drinks were portrayed in weekday children’s television programs aired on two UK television stations in 2010.
While legislation governing the broadcast of TV advertisements for products high in sugar and fat have been implemented in both England and Ireland, those regulations do not apply to the content of the actual programs, according to the study authors. So the investigators assessed the frequency and type of food and drink product portrayals in kids programs aired on the commercial-free BBC and RTE TV stations.
In all, the authors recorded 1,155 food and beverage mentions in 82.5 hours of child-specific television broadcasting on those two stations, meaning that they accounted for 4.8-percent of the total televised material. Each cue lasted an average of 13.2 seconds, and just under 40-percent of the content was American in nature.
The authors then analyzed the mentions based on type of product, product placement, product use, motivation, outcome and characters involved. They found that sweet snacks were the most frequently mentioned type of food (13.3 percent), followed by candy/confectionery (11.4 percent). Tea and coffee was the type of beverage mentioned most often (13.5 percent), followed by sugar-sweetened beverages (13 percent).
Nearly half of all food cues were for unhealthy foods (47.5 percent), while one-quarter of all drink mentions were for sweetened beverages, the study authors said. Nearly all of the mentions involved a major program character, with 95 percent of them “goodies” or heroic characters and 90 percent of whom were not overweight.
The cue was presented positively 32.6 percent of the time, negatively 19.8 percent of the time, and neutrally in 47.5 percent of the time, they added. The motivation associated with each mention were social or celebratory 25.2 percent of the time, related to hunger or thirst in 25 percent of the time, and health-related just two percent of the time.
The researchers also directly compared the content of the UK and Irish programs spanning 27.5 recorded hours of shows, and found that the BBC tended to include more food and drink cues than RTE (2.3 hours to 45.6 minutes).
“Comparison of UK and Irish placements showed both to portray high levels of unhealthy food cues. However, placements for sugar-sweetened beverages were relatively low on both channels,” the study authors wrote.
“This study provides further evidence of the prominence of unhealthy foods in children’s programming,” they added. “These data may provide guidance for healthcare professionals, regulators and program makers in planning for a healthier portrayal of food and beverage in children’s television.”
While it is generally accepted that there is a link between the advertising of unhealthy food and drinks to young children and the consumption of those products by the same kids, the study authors note that the impact of unhealthy food and drink content in TV shows aimed at youngsters remains unclear.
However, they note that based on their observations, it appears as though “eating and drinking are common activities within children specific programming, with unhealthy foods and beverages especially common and frequently associated with positive motivating factors, and seldom seen with negative outcomes.”