Children's TV projecting unhealthy food cues: study

Unhealthy food choices that had negative real life consequences are projected in positive light by television programmes meant for children, according to an analysis of broadcast output, Medical News Today reported.

The BMJ journal Archives of Disease in Childhood features the research conducted into TV content shown to kids in England.

Of all the programming watched by the children, just under 40 per cent of it originated from the US, with almost all the food and drink "cues" presented by positive characters.

The study recorded around 1,155 food and beverage cues in total, in the largely positive framing, though, according to the authors, the placements were usually bad examples for health.

"Unhealthy foods, such as sweet snacks and candy, accounted for 47.5% of all food-specific placements, and sugar-sweetened beverages accounted for 25% of all beverage-specific placements," it said.

Television content mostly presented food and drink outside the home and not part of a meal. Also the content involved "non-overweight human characters, most commonly a white adult male playing a major role within the program plot."

Food and beverage depictions often had social or celebratory contexts (25.2 per cent). Hunger and thirst were also as frequent (25 per cent) with only 2 per cent of "motivations" being health-related.

Food and drink made up 4.8 per cent of the total broadcast material, averaging 13.2 second for each cue.

Meanwhile, The Independent reported that children were being bombarded with scenes of unhealthy eating on TV.

The report added that researchers reviewing public broadcasting in the UK and Ireland had found that children's TV contained a high number of visual and verbal references to unhealthy foods.

The UK banned direct TV advertising of unhealthy food to children in 2008.

The researchers were interested in whether children's TV broadcast by state-funded organisations still promoted unhealthy food choices to young children.

Researchers reviewed five weekdays of children programmes from the BBC and its Irish equivalent, RTE to track what they described as ''cues'' – visual, verbal and plot-driven references to specific foods and drinks.

As the programmes were on non-commercial TV, the inclusion of said cues could be said to be due to cultural, and not commercial, reasons.

Children's fiction, ranging from Rastamouse to the Famous Five contained a constant plot device of a ''slap-up meal'' as a reward for a job well done, or as a treat.

However it was important to note that the study could not tell whether the food and drink cues directly influenced the children's food and drink requests or their eating patterns.