Creating good feelings about unhealthy food: children’s televised ‘advertised diet’ on the island of Ireland, in a climate of regulation

Tatlow-Golden, Mimi; Murrin, Celine; Bergin, Rebecca; Kerr, Maeve; O’Brien, Sinead and Livingstone, Barbara (2015). Creating good feelings about unhealthy food: children’s televised ‘advertised diet’ on the island of Ireland, in a climate of regulation. The Irish Journal of Psychology, 36(1-4) pp. 83–100.



Childhood eating habits and associations with advertising persist through life. Obesity is high in Ireland, and is increasing worldwide. Links between food promotion and children’s diets are well-established, and the World Health Organisation has called for reduced marketing of foods high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) to children. In Ireland and the UK, statutory regulation restricts HFSS television advertising, but only during children’s programming – yet children view much television at other times. This study is the first to identify young children’s exposure to television food advertising on the island of Ireland (IoI), and its nature, with systematic sampling according to Irish audience panel research. Food advertisements were nutrient profiled and content analyses were conducted of marketing techniques. The IoI ‘advertised diet’ viewed by young children primarily features dairy and fast foods, pizza, sweets and chocolate, normalising this consumption and associating it with taste/aroma, fun, magic/ imagination, physical activity, humour and exaggerated pleasure. HFSS ads primarily featured taste/aroma, humour and novelty. Despite complying with statutory regulations, more than half of IoI food advertisements featured HFSS items; young children see over 1000 HFSS ads annually in the Republic of Ireland, nearly 700 in Northern Ireland. Policy implications for remedying children’s HFSS ad exposure include (i) applying food advertising restrictions to times when higher proportions of young children watch television – not just child-directed programming – as well as to digital media, (ii) employing a stricter nutrient profiling method and (iii) normalising children’s ‘advertised diet’ by exploring ways to advertise healthy foods.

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