Published on 25th October 2018


Children who watch commercial television or use the internet for more than half an hour per day are more likely to pester for, buy, and consume junk food products that are high in sugar, salt and fat, according to a report by Cancer Research UK and the University of Liverpool.[1]

Researchers used an online survey to ask almost 2,500 seven to 11-year-olds and their parents about how much time they spent watching TV or on the internet, child purchase requests (pester power), pocket money expenditure on food and drinks, eating habits and physical activity. Data were on height and weight were also collected.

It was found that compared to children who watched less than half an hour of TV per day, children who watched over three hours a day were more than 2.5 times more likely to pester their parents for junk food, almost three times more likely to buy junk food, and more than twice as likely to have crisps and sugary drinks. They were also 59 per cent more likely to be overweight or obese.

Similarly, children who spent more than three hours a day online, compared to children who spent less than half an hour a day online, were almost three times more likely to pester parents, almost four times more likely to spend their pocket money on chocolate, crisps, sugary drinks and takeaways (and seven times more likely to buy bakery products specifically), and will eat three times less fruit and vegetables. They were also 79 per cent more likely to be overweight or obese. However, there was no link between time spent watching commercial TV or online and activity levels.

The research had found that the children watched an average of 22 hours of TV per week (three on weekdays and four on weekends); of which 12 were spent on commercial channels that show adverts. This was in addition to an average 16 hours spent online per week (two on weekdays and three on weekends, on average); with four out of the five most popular websites carrying adverts.

Dr Emma Boyland, a lead researcher from the University of Liverpool, said: “Parents are all too familiar with being nagged for sweets and fizzy drinks in the supermarket or corner shop. Our research shows that this behaviour can be linked to the amount of time children spend in front of a screen and as a result, the increased number of enticing adverts they see for these sorts of products.”  

The UK government has published plans to halve childhood obesity by 2030 and will be opening consultations on policies including a 9pm watershed for unhealthy food adverts on TV, and how best to regulate on-demand and online adverts.


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  1. Boyland E et al (2018). See it, want it, buy it, eat it: How food advertising is associated with unhealthy eating behaviours in 7 – 11 year old children.