Stuff, 6 June 2017
Large numbers of adverts for "unhealthy" food are being shown on
TV during peak viewing times for children, Auckland University
But that also happens to be the time when large numbers of
adults are watching. They are not the times when programmes
aimed specifically at children are broadcast.
The proportion of unhealthy food advertisements displayed during
designated children's programmes was "very low" and almost
exclusively on weekends, the researchers said in a paper published
in Public Health Nutrition.
But 88 per cent of "unhealthy" food ads were shown at times when
the children's audience was at its largest, with audience size
based on data from market research company AC Nielsen.
According to definitions used by the researchers "almost all
unhealthy food advertisements shown on New Zealand television were
specifically targeted at children".
One of the definitions used for saying ads are being targeted at
children is simply if they're shown during the times when the size
of the children's audience peaks. The other definitions are
ads shown during designated children's programmes; and those
that contain promotional strategies or premium offers
known to appeal to children. Only one of the definitions needs
to be met for the researchers to consider an ad is marketed at
The researchers said 24.8 per cent of total food ads had
promotional characters targeting children, while 1.8 per cent had
premium offers targeting children.
McDonald's queried the definitions used by the researchers in
determining whether an ad was targeted at children.
During the period covered by the survey, the company said,
it had ads in primetime TV for Serious Angus burgers,
McCafe coffee, Share Boxes, Big Mac, hash browns and Happy
"It's clear the majority of those advertisements are not
targeting children. Even the Happy Meal advertisement, which shows
water, a chicken wrap and apple slices and a health and wellbeing
message, is intended to be seen by parents," McDonald's said.
"We also question what children actually do during advertising
breaks and if they are watching ads. Simply put, we advertise in
primetime television to convey a message to adults."
The Auckland University research was published about a
month before a new
Children and Young People's Advertising Code, adopted by the
Advertising Standards Authority, comes into effect. All
advertising to children and young people must comply with the code
from October 2.
University senior research fellow Dr Stefanie Vandevijvere, who
led the advertising study, said it was uncertain to what extent the
new code would address some of the concerns raised by the
The researchers counted adverts shown on TV1, TV2 and TV3
between 6am and midnight on eight days in the three months between
June and August 2015. Four of the days were weekdays, two were
Saturdays and two were Sundays. Altogether 432 hours of TV were
The researchers said the work was the largest study of food
advertising on TV carried out in New Zealand.
A total of 10,471 adverts were recorded, of which 17.3 per
cent - more than 1800 - were for food.
More than two-thirds of the food ads contained foods that
according to World Health Organisation standards should not be
marketed to children, Vandevijvere said.
From 6-7pm, when more than 120,000 5-13 year-olds
were watching TV, more than 15 unhealthy food
advertisements appeared per hour, Vandevijvere said.
According to the
study, McDonald's had more unhealthy food ads targeted at
children than anyone else, with 134. Burger King was second with
110, then Countdown with 66, and KFC with 65.
"The volume and nature of the advertising to which children are
exposed on television suggest that industry self-regulation has not
been effective in New Zealand," the paper said.
Peak viewing time was defined several ways in the study,
and was calculated for children - those aged 5-13 - and for
adolescents who were 14-18. Probably the simplest definition of
peak time is when more than 100,000 children, or more than 50,000
adolescents are watching.
On that basis, the peak weekday viewing time for children
is 5.30pm to 8.30pm, and for adolescents it is 6pm to 10pm. On
Saturdays it is 5.30pm to 9.30pm for children, and 6pm to 10pm for
adolescents. On Sundays 5pm to 8.30pm for children, and 6pm to
9.30pm for adolescents.
The researchers were unhappy with a provision in the new
advertising code that would limit unhealthy food ads during
programming times when children comprise at least 25 per
cent of the total audience.
"This is not a logical definition," the paper said. "...having
more adults in the audience will reduce the percentage of children
watching but not the total number or percentage of children