Research examining the way foods such as confectionery are promoted to children has been published by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).The organisation wanted to find out how children respond to food promotion, whether it influences their food preferences and the extent of that influence compared to other factors.
Professor Gerard Hastings of Strathclyde University was commissioned by the FSA to produce the report, entitled Does Food Promotion Influence Children? A Systematic Review of the Evidence. The findings reveal that if children are exposed to an extra 25 minutes of food advertising a week, they eat an extra snack and consume two per cent more calories.
Three quarters of all children's television advertising is for food, and 95 per cent of these adverts are for products high in fat, sugar or salt. The report also identified the Big Five advertisers of food to children: pre-sugared breakfast cereals, soft drinks, confectionery, savoury snacks, and fast-food outlets.
As a result, food manufacturers in the UK could be forced to display tobacco-style health warnings on confectionery packets unless they accept that their products are contributing to the epidemic of childhood obesity.
" 'This is a comprehensive and extremely thorough review of evidence on this important and complex issue," said Hastings. 'It reaches a number of significant conclusions about the link between promotional activities and children's eating behaviour.
"In particular, it concludes that advertising to children does have an effect on their preferences, purchase behaviour and consumption, and these effects are apparent not just for different brands but also for different types of food."
Following the publication of Professor Hasting's research review, the agency intends to draw on the conclusions of his report, to inform and promote open public debate, and will be hosting a series of meetings involving a wide range of stakeholders with an interest in, or concern about, the promotion of food to children. This will include a meeting of leading academics to discuss the review findings, and a public meeting to debate the issues. The Agency's Board will then consider the outcomes of the public debate, and discuss the options available. Hastings has warned that if confectionery manufacturers do not face up to the issue, compulsory measures might have to be taken.
The number of obese children has doubled since 1982. One in 10 six-year-olds is now classed as obese, while 17 per cent of 15-year-olds are now considered to be obese.