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LSE academic analyses research on food advertising and childhood obesity

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Professor Sonia Livingstone of LSE's Department of Media and Communications has analysed the role of television advertising in relation to childhood obesity for Ofcom. The report, Child Obesity - food advertising in context, is published today (Thursday 22 July).

The research was undertaken in response to a request in December 2003 from the secretary of state for culture, media and sport that Ofcom look at the rules relevant to food advertising directed at children.

As part of the research programme, Ofcom commissioned Professor Livingstone to conduct a full and independent review of relevant academic research. She looked at:

  • The Food Standards Agency's Hastings Report
  • The Food Advertising Unit's response (by Paliwoda and Crawford) to that report.
  • The reviews by Professor Brian Young of television advertising
  • Other relevant academic literature on factors which influence children's food choices and on children's understanding of advertising, segmented by age.

Professor Livingstone's two reports, A Commentary on the Research Evidence Regarding the Effects of Food Promotion on Children and Advertising Foods to Children: understanding promotion in the context of children's daily lives, co-authored with Ellen Helsper, LSE, can now be found online.

Ofcom's research shows that television advertising has a modest direct effect on children's food consumption. However, the significance of this is small when compared to other factors potentially linked to childhood obesity such as exercise, trends in family eating habits inside and outside the home, parents' demographics, school policy, public understanding of nutrition, food labelling and other forms of food promotion.

On that basis, Ofcom has concluded that a total ban on such advertising would be both ineffective and disproportionate in its wider impact. Ofcom does, however, support the need for better information about the nutritional content of the products being advertised, and would like advertisements directed at young children to be less attractive, for example by avoiding the use of cartoon characters.



Press cuttings

BBC News Online
TV child food ad ban is ruled out (22 July)
Reference to research by Sonia Livingstone on the effects of television advertising on children's food consumption.

22 July 2004