Children May Be Inundated With Television Food Ads

Professor Clodagh O'Gorman MB BCh BAO MSc MD FRCPI FPAEDS Foundation Chair & Professor of Paediatrics, Graduate Entry Medical School, University of Limerick, Interview with:
Professor Clodagh O’Gorman
Foundation Chair & Professor of Paediatrics,
Graduate Entry Medical School,
University of Limerick, Ireland.

Medical Research: What are the main findings of the study?

Professor O’Gorman: 1155 cues for food and beverages (BBC=450; RTE=705), were recorded over 82.5 hours; thus, on average one cue was recorded every 4.2 minutes. The total recorded time for food and beverage cues was 3.94 hours, equating to 4.8% of the total recording time, and averaging 13.2 seconds per cue.

If these results are representative of all children’s television broadcast on RTE and BBC, then if your child watches 82.5 hours of television, your child will see 3.94 hours of food and beverages during this time. Unhealthy foods account for 47.5% of specified food cues, and sugar-sweetened beverages for 25% of specified beverage cues, with an average time of 13.8 s for healthy cues and 11.4 s for unhealthy cues (p=0.17).

88.2% of all food and beverage cues involved a major character and 95.3% involved a character ‘goodie’. Male characters were more common than female (45.3% vs 14.0%), adults more common than teens or children (46.3% vs 23.8% and 14.2%). Overweight characters were depicted in 4.7%. The most common ethnic group was white Caucasian (88.5%).

The commonest motivating factor for consuming/depiction of food and beverage was celebratory/social (25.2%), followed by hunger/thirst (25.0%), reward (4.5%), health-related (2.2%) and punishment (1.2%). Motivating factors were positive (30.5%), negative (1.5%) and health-related (25.8%). Cue outcomes were positive (32.6%), negative (19.8%) and neutral (47.5%).

Medical Research: Were any of the findings unexpected?

Professor O’Gorman: We had not expected to identify as much food and beverage depictions, nor for the cues to last as long as they did. We had not anticipated that almost half of food cues would be for “unhealthy” foods, or foods that should be eaten in moderation. And we had not expected that “unhealthy” foods would be so positively depicted, with ingestion most commonly for social/celebratory reasons, with positive motivations and positive cue outcomes.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Professor O’Gorman: Current guidelines stipulate limits on the amount of television which children watch; children less than 2 years old are not recommended to watch television; children over 2 years old are recommended to watch no more than 2 hours per day of television. The data suggests that children actually watch significantly more television than this.

We recommend that parents and policy-makers need to look to the content of children’s television, in addition to the quantity of television watched. Importantly, the messages that children receive from children’s television programmes should not be at variance with the public health messages that parents and children receive from health-related sources. State broadcasters need to be aware of these results and perhaps work towards limiting negative food messages on television for children.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Professor O’Gorman: Research is required to evaluate the effects on a child and populations of children of watching cues for food and beverages on children’s television. Policy makers could additionally conduct epidemiological research to further inform definite changes in policy. Ongoing monitoring of the messages children receive during children’s television and the effects of these messages on the children could be organized.


Food and beverage cues in UK and Irish children-television programming

Paul Scully, Orlaith Reid, Alan Macken, Mark Healy, Jean Saunders, Des Leddin, Walter Cullen, Colum Dunne, Clodagh S O’Gorman

Arch Dis Child archdischild-2013-305430Published Online First: 30 June 2014 doi:10.1136/archdischild-2013-305430