TV shows including Paw Patrol, Teletubbies and Fireman Sam bombard children with junk food content


Young children are being bombarded with junk food content in their favourite TV shows including Paw Patrol, Teletubbies and Fireman Sam, study finds

  • Seeing unhealthy food on TV linked to bad eating habits and obesity in children
  • Nottingham Uni research found junk food is ‘common’ in TV aimed at toddlers
  • Netflix and Amazon Prime saw junk food in 72% of children’s TV episodes
  • On CBeebies, it appeared in 26% of episodes but only 11% on C5’s Milkshake!
  • Dr Alex Barker urged gov to go further than planned  junk food ad ban pre-9pm

Children are being bombarded with junk food content on their favourite TV shows, a study has revealed.

Exposure to images of foods high in fat, sugar or salt (HFSS) is linked to bad eating habits and obesity in younger people.

Researchers have now found that such foods are ‘common’ in programmes aimed at children who have not even started school yet.

The study, led by a team from the University of Nottingham, analysed three days’ worth of children’s programmes on UK television and on-demand services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime in 2019.

These included the likes of Paw Patrol, Fireman Sam, Teletubbies and Bing. The team recorded each time foods like sweets, sugary cereals and crisps appeared on screen, were mentioned in dialogue or featured in characters’ names.

Exposure to images of foods high in fat, sugar or salt (HFSS) is linked to bad eating habits and obesity in younger people. Netflix and Amazon Prime show far more junk food in children’s TV compared to CBeebies and Channel 5’s Milkshake!

They discovered that across Netflix and Amazon Prime, fatty, sugary and salty content appeared in 72 per cent of episodes and in 19 per cent of intervals.

On CBeebies, such foods appeared in 26 per cent of episodes and ad breaks.

In the weekday morning television slot on Channel 5 called Milkshake!, HFSS content appeared in 11 per cent of programmes and ad breaks, excluding mentions of ‘Milkshake’ itself.

Writing in the Journal of Public Health, the researchers said: ‘The UK is in the midst of an obesity epidemic. Food choices in children are influenced by a range of factors, including exposure to depictions of HFSS foods in the media.

‘It is well-recognised that children learn through observed behaviour – this has already been demonstrated in alcohol and tobacco use.’

Bad example: The Cookie Monster from Sesame Street has a bit of a junk food problem

Bad example: The Cookie Monster from Sesame Street has a bit of a junk food problem

Dr Alex Barker, first author of the study, said: ‘We chose to look at programmes aimed at very small children, and what we found was quite shocking. The thing that just kept appearing to us was confectionary – so sweets, cookies, cakes and ice cream. Young people watch this, they then want that junk food, go to eat it and become obese and have all kinds of health problems.

‘There should be a responsibility with the programme makers and there should be legislation in place to prevent this.’

The researchers added that children who see unhealthy foods may beg parents for them – so-called ‘pester power’.

To date, most research on HFSS content has focused on advertising – suggesting that brands can exploit a ‘harmful loophole’ to feature junk food within programmes, the researchers said. The team urged the regulator Ofcom to step in.

‘We would also urge the Department for Health and Social Care to consider whether the current plan to ban ‘junk food’ adverts before the 9pm watershed goes far enough,’ they wrote.

‘The thing that just kept appearing to us was confectionary – so sweets, cookies, cakes and ice cream. Young people watch this, they then want that junk food, go to eat it and become obese and have all kinds of health problems,’ said Dr Alex Barker, the first author of the study

Around one in four UK adults, and more than one in five children in their final year of primary school, are obese. Young people who are obese typically become adults with obesity, the researchers added.

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, which funded the study, said the results showed ‘the need to regulate junk food marketing to tackle… obesity, the second-biggest preventable cause of cancer’.

Spokesmen for both Channel 5 and CBeebies each said they were ‘proud’ of content pushing ‘health eating’ and ‘active lifestyles’.

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