Children bombarded by junk food ads during World Cup

By June Shannon Policy News   |   17th Jul 2018

There is conclusive proof of link between junk food marketing to children and childhood obesity.

Children watching the 2018 World Cup on Irish television were bombarded by almost 1,400 junk food ads over 16 matches, a new study has revealed.

According to the analysis by the Irish Heart Foundation (IHF), children watching the World Cup knockout stages (final 16 matches, 30th June to 14th July 2018) on TV in Ireland were exposed to a total of 1,357 (1,317 pitch-side digital billboard displays and 40 television advertisements) adverts promoting unhealthy food and drinks that are high in fat, salt and sugar.

The study, which was carried out by Claire McCafferty, UCD and Mimi Tatlow-Golden, The Open University, on behalf of the Irish Heart Foundation, analysed food products and brand exposure during the knockout stages of the 2018 football World Cup as shown on RTE (final 16 matches, 30th June to 14th July 2018). They identified advertising for food or drink high in saturated fat, salt and sugar on in-match digital billboards, and television advertising breaks. This included full match time (90 minutes), and where relevant, extra time and penalties, as well as advertising before, during and after the matches.


"Football is a global sport but sadly obesity is now a global health issue,”

Mimi Tatlow-Golden, Open University

In total across the knockout stages, 285 minutes of junk food advertising were transmitted, this included pitch-side billboard displays for 267 minutes and TV ads for 18 minutes, while on average, nearly 17 minutes of pitch-side digital brand displays for food and drink high in fat, salt and sugar were shown per match.

The analysis also revealed that pitch-side billboards displays for junk food ads appeared 65-108 times per match.

Lead researcher Mimi Tatlow-Golden of Open University concluded: “Children are influenced by the strong emotions of match play and their sporting heroes. This kind of marketing during sporting events creates powerful positive and healthy associations with junk food brands – the opposite of reality. Exposure to High fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) foods and drinks advertising is unavoidable while watching the 2018 World Cup knockout matches. Drinks were marketed in a performance or lifestyle-boosting context in television adverts. Humour and content to appeal to an Irish audience was used for many of the HFSS adverts. This research is crucial in demonstrating the extent of junk food brand advertising in association with high-performance sport. Strong concerted international action is needed if we are to protect children’s rights to grow in healthy environments – football is a global sport but sadly obesity is now a global health issue.”

"The World Cup was fully saturated with advertising for junk food and drink brands,"

Kathryn Reilly, Policy Manager, Irish Heart Foundation

Commenting on the analysis Irish Heart Foundation’s Policy Manager Kathryn Reilly said, “There is conclusive and long-standing proof of a causal link between junk food marketing to children and child obesity. That’s why junk food ads on TV were restricted on children’s programmes in 2013.This research clearly illustrates that Ireland’s watershed of 6pm is not sufficient. The 25 per cent cap on advertising outside of children’s programming and the content rules are merely tokenistic, leaving large numbers of children still exposed to adverts for unhealthy foods.

Ms Reilly said that to protect children from adverts that are known to influence what food they want to eat, the Government should extend existing regulations to restrict junk food advertising on TV until after the 9pm watershed. In addition, brands that advertise food and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar should not be allowed to sponsor prime time family TV shows, she added.

“Five years ago, the advertising of junk brands to children on television was partially restricted because of concern over its impact on their health. But we know children in Ireland are still watching an average of over 1,000 junk brand ads a year on TV alone. These figures show that this is not sneaky, ambush marketing.

“The World Cup was fully saturated with advertising for junk food and drink brands. Worse still, there has been an explosion in digital marketing that’s more personalised, effective and therefore potentially even more damaging. As a result, the overall exposure of children to junk brands is probably greater now than ever. What we really need is uncompromising mandatory regulation with stiff financial penalties for those who break the rules. That’s the way we can start to change the future for children who may be embarking on lives that will otherwise be dominated by chronic disease and premature death,” Ms Reilly stated.

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