Study confirms that fast food advertising increases fast food consumption in children
The study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Liverpool's Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, finds that fast food advertising is at least partly responsible for high rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes, increasingly amongst the young.
The researchers analysed 22 previous studies that had examined the impact of fast food marketing on food consumption. The studies observed the effects of marketing both online and on television, concluding that the two had an equal impact on fast food consumption.
"Through our analysis of these published studies I have shown that food advertising doesn't just affect brand preference - it drives consumption," said Dr. Emma Boyland, of the University of Liverpool's Institute of Psychology, Health and Society. "Given that almost all children in Westernised societies are exposed to large amounts of unhealthy food advertising on a daily basis this is a real concern.
"Small, but cumulative increases in energy intake have resulted in the current global childhood obesity epidemic and food marketing plays a critical role in this. We have also shown that the effects are not confined to TV advertising; online marketing by food and beverages brands is now well established and has a similar impact.
"On the basis of these findings, recommendations for enacting environmental strategies and policy options to reduce children's exposure to food advertising are evidence-based and warranted."
Tim Rycroft, of the Food and Drink Federation, argues that advertising regulation will have little effect on childhood obesity: "We have one of the strictest advertising regulatory regimes in the world concerning how foods and drinks can be advertised.
"Many companies go even further, developing their own responsible marketing guidelines and making voluntary commitments. We don't believe that a 9pm watershed would have any effect on obesity."
Despite Rycroft's protests, the findings are likely to inspire renewed calls for tighter regulation of the advertising industry. Currently, manufacturers are not allowed to advertise during television shows specifically aimed at children, but there is nothing stopping them from advertising during any other kinds of television. Advertising during the evening peak viewing period - when millions of children will be watching television - is totally unrestricted.
Mike Hobday, Policy director at the British Heart Foundation, believes all advertising of fast food should be banned before the 9pm watershed.
"We mustn't allow food companies to continue to exploit a failing regulatory system that allows them to bombard TV screens with junk food adverts at the times when the highest numbers of children are watching TV," said Hobday.
The findings are published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.