Children describe junk food advertising as “addictive”, and say they could “lick the screen”, according to a new report from Cancer Research UK.
The study looked at how junk food advertising can influence children’s eating habits and food choices.
Researchers interviewed children between eight and 12 years old at six schools after viewing two TV adverts for junk food.
“You might be eating a piece of fruit, you might see the advert, and you might just throw it in the bin and ask your mum for money and leg it to the shop,” said a boy in year six from Northamptonshire after the viewing.
Most children said they had asked their parents for things they had seen on TV, particularly new junk food products, flavours or eye catching pack designs.
“I asked my mum if I could have it and she said no and I was annoyed and I kept trying and she finally said yes and I got to go to the shops to get it,” said a girl in primary 5, from Edinburgh.
Recent polling by YouGov shows that 74% of the UK public back a ban on advertising junk food on TV before 9pm.
Alison Cox, director of prevention at Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s clear the restrictions already in place during children’s TV shows aren’t enough.
“Children are watching junk food adverts during family programmes where these restrictions don’t apply.
“The rise in children’s obesity is a huge concern and a growing epidemic. There must be no delay in taking action.
“We know that obese children are around five times more likely to be obese adults, and obese adults are more likely to develop cancer.
“This is why we need regulations to stop junk food advertising on TV before the 9pm watershed to give children a better chance of a healthy life.”
More than one in five children in England are overweight or obese before they start primary school. By the time they leave, this increases to one in three.
In a joint statement from the Obesity Health Alliance, a coalition of more than 30 leading national health charities and Royal Medical Colleges, including Diabetes UK, said the report “highlights how exposure to junk food advertising can make it extremely difficult for children and their families to make healthy food choices”.
“Currently a third of children in their final year of primary school in the UK are overweight or obese, which is a massive tragedy because obese children are more likely to grow into obese adults, at greater risk of serious health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, cancer, liver and cardiovascular disease and have poor mental health
“Beyond the human impact, treating obesity and its associated illnesses is extremely costly to our health service.
“This is why it is essential that we have tough and far-reaching measures in place to make it as easy as possible for the public to lead healthier lives, and to give children the best chance of a healthy future.
“These should include a ban on junk food advertising before the 9pm watershed to reduce exposure to children.”