The Obesity Health Alliance analysed ads before 9pm during six live episodes of Britain’s Got Talent over one week in May and June, finding that more than one in five (23%) were for food or drink high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) including pizza, burgers, ice cream, cake and chocolate biscuits.
This rose to almost 30% in the episode shown on May 30.
According to the OHA, a child who watched all six episodes shown during the week up to 9pm would have seen more than 22 minutes of unhealthy food and drink adverts, which the charity calculated could lead to them eating an extra 300 calories.
Recent research had found that seeing 4.4 minutes of food advertising was associated with children eating 60 more calories a day, while eating as little as 46 extra calories each day could lead to excess weight.
Just 2% of all the ads were for fruit or vegetables. The OHA noted that the ads did not include a single ad for the Veg Power initiative, despite ITV’s sponsorship of the flagship programme.
Britain’s Got Talent is regularly watched by hundreds of thousands of children, viewer figures show, but is not classed as “of particular appeal” to children under current rules, meaning restrictions on junk food advertising do not apply.
Caroline Cerny, from the OHA, said: “This analysis clearly demonstrates how the food industry makes sure their sugary and high calorie food products are kept firmly centre stage in children’s minds. This type of advertising is clearly linked with children going on to eat more calories than they need.
“A comprehensive 9pm watershed on unhealthy food adverts on TV and online would ensure children can enjoy their favourite programmes without being flooded by adverts for pizza, burgers and ice cream.”
Malcolm Clark, policy manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “The world we live in doesn’t make it easy to be healthy, and children are especially vulnerable to the onslaught of adverts that nudge us towards foods loaded with fat, salt and sugar.
“Research shows that time spent online and watching commercial TV quickly adds up and makes children more likely to ask for, buy and eat junk food – which is why the industry bombards them with unhealthy messages. Government and regulators must step in to protect the health of the next generation.”
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS medical director, said: “Obesity is a dangerous public health threat, leading to a string of serious illnesses for millions, and thousands of children ending up in hospital as a result, so every industry needs to take a look at what it can do to support urgent action to prevent harm and safeguard children.”
An Advertising Association spokesman said: “A significant reduction in exposure to HFSS marketing during the past 15 years has had no impact on obesity prevalence, and shows further advertising restrictions are not a solution.
“The Government’s recent Impact Assessment on the 9pm watershed showed the intervention would be ineffective, in that it would remove just 1.7 calories from children’s daily intake.
“We wholly support the ambition to halve childhood obesity prevalence by 2030, but fundamentally we want to see solutions that will work. Any intervention must be led by evidence of impact, holistic, and targeted at the root causes of obesity.”
An ITV spokesman said:
“ITV takes its responsibility to viewers very seriously and ensures adverts broadcast during our programmes adhere to the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising’s rules on the content and scheduling of advertising.
“Britain’s Got Talent is not commissioned as a children’s programme and the vast majority of its viewers are adults.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said:
“A key part of our plans to halve childhood obesity by 2030 is reducing children’s exposure to sugary and fatty foods.
“We have consulted on a 9pm watershed for advertising these products on TV and online, and will set out next steps as soon as possible.”