All that junk on TV: The Fast Food Ad Epidemic

It’s 6:45pm, you’ve made it to the sofa, the remote is to hand, and that’s pretty much it for Saturday night, thank you very much. We’re not judging.

A new report published by the BBC is, though. Interestingly, the Obesity Health Alliance is less concerned about your stress levels or whether you worked out today – no, the research team at Liverpool University are more worried about the number of TV ads on poor food choices you’re absorbing of an evening.

Experts are calling for a 9pm watershed on adverts promoting high-fat, high sugar content foods. They say current broadcasting “bombards” children and young people with up to 12 fast-food or takeaway ads per hour during primetime viewing hours (6pm – 9pm). They say this is “failing” young people. You can see the BBC report here.

Always up for a challenge – particularly one involving lying down – Persist assumed the position and settled in for an hour of terrestrial telly from 8.15pm – 9.15pm on Saturday 10 December. Our findings were startling.

It’s ITV and I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! at 8:20pm. According to ITV, this year’s series is their most popular since its launch in 2002. Currently, I’m a Celeb is averaging 10.5m viewers, over a quarter of whom are aged 16-34.

First, however, that all-important commercial break. A young woman taking her first bite of a Burger King Whopper is the first thing we see. Boom. We’re already peckish.

Obviously, there’s a festive bent to tonight’s visual advertising, with plenty of eau de parfum idling across our screen. In this break of ten adverts alone, however, there are also two from Co-Op Food.

Three out of ten in this break are stand-alone ads for convenience or fast food. But this is far from the only trick advertisers deploy to flaunt their wares.

Current rules, introduced in 2007, restrict the promotion of high-fat, high-sugar foods when 75% of the audience is expected to be children or young people. However, also within this particular break, ITV showcases another of their tea-time programmes, Emmerdale. A harmless ad for a TV show? Consider that Emmerdale is sponsored by McCain Oven Chips, accompanied by a big, on-screen logo. Someone turn the oven on…

I’m a Celebrity itself is sponsored by online bingo site, Tombola, but in the mini-ads which top and tail breaks, two cockroaches talk about their love of pizza and takeaways. Within the show tonight, there is also a challenge involving contestants finding choc ices hidden within the camp, right around 8:30 pm. Wall’s and Magnum know what they’re doing. Who wants to head out to Londis?

At 8:40pm there’s a second ad break. There are seven commercials in total, three of which are KFC, an Asda Extra Special cheese selection and Lindt Christmas chocolates. Let’s be honest, this is food that’s never mentioned in fitness blogs.

During the third break of the hour, we have Rowse honey, Asda Food (again) and McDonalds.

We round up with a fourth and final commercial break, including ads from Tesco Express (pies and sausages) Pepsi and Heinz mayonnaise.

They’re right, you know. Persist makes that 12 ads per hour on ‘treat’ foods. (We’re including Rowse honey because, despite the health benefits, it’s a very high sugar and high-calorie food.)

Persist might have thought the BBC, in publishing such findings, had ulterior motives in discouraging viewers from heading over to ITV or Channel 4. BBC broadcasting is, of course, publicly funded and thus devoid of harmful-to-waistline advertising.

It is with regret, though, that we have to agree with the Beeb: there’s too much junk on TV.

We’re grabbing for the remote, channel-surfing to rid our minds of mayo-heavy sandwiches, burgers, chocolates, fried chicken, choc ices and big bottles of sugary drink.

The past hour has made us want all the wrong things.

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