It found that teenagers were more than twice as likely to be obese if they could remember seeing a junk food advert every day. This was compared to those who did not recall seeing any over a month whether on TV, billboards or social media. Obese teenagers were more likely to recall social media adverts than the other mediums, the report revealed, while teens from deprived communities were 40% more likely to remember seeing junk food ads.
Cancer Research UK said that regularly eating junk food increased the risk of becoming overweight or obese, which is the biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking in the UK. The research was based on a YouGov survey of 3,348 young people aged between 11 to 19 about their TV viewing habits, diet and BMI.
The charity admitted that since the report was conducted there had been more restrictions placed on advertising but said it was still pushing for a 9pm ban on junk food ads to be included in the Government’s Obesity Strategy.
Dr Jyotsna Vohra, a lead author on the study, said: “It’s particularly worrying that the poorest teens had the best recall of junk food ads. We can’t allow the industry free rein to target young people, especially as we know that eating habits adopted in childhood are more likely to remain into adulthood.”
“Curbing exposure to junk food ads would help reduce obesity rates among young people, particularly as their passion for social media shows no signs of waning.”
Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert, said: “Right now, we hope to see a 9pm ban on junk food ads in the government’s upcoming obesity strategy which requires a simple change of rules from Ofcom.
“Young people from more deprived backgrounds have the most to gain from a 9pm ban on unhealthy TV adverts.”
Extended advertising restrictions
However, the Food & Drink Federation (FDF) said that the UK already has some of the tightest restrictions on advertising to children in the world.
“In fact, only last July industry voluntarily extended advertising restrictions previously in place for television to all non-broadcast channels too - a move that FDF championed. Many companies go even further than this, developing their own responsible marketing guidelines and making voluntary commitments,” said a FDF spokesperson.
"Obesity remains a serious public health challenge in the UK and more widely. FDF and its members have in recent years demonstrated their commitment to tackling obesity. Large amounts of salt, fat and sugar have voluntarily been removed from product recipes, many portion sizes have been limited or reduced and many new healthier products have been developed and marketed. These commitments will continue as we rise to the challenge of the latest government targets on calorie reduction.”