BANNING junk food adverts before the 9pm watershed would slash the number of overweight kids by 120,000, a study suggests.
Researchers estimate the move would also cut childhood obesity by 40,000 and save the UK £7.4billion in lost productivity.
The country’s 3.7million children would see 1.5 fewer commercials each day for food and drink high in fat, sugar or salt.
This is likely to reduce daily intake by just 9.1 calories – equal to around two Smarties – the study claims.
But it totals almost 40,000 calories from the age of five to 17.
If firms move their adverts to after the watershed, rather than remove them completely, the benefits would fall by two-thirds.
One in three children in England leave primary school too fat, increasing their risk of cancer, heart disease and type-2 diabetes.
The government has vowed to halve childhood obesity by 2030 and is considering restrictions on pre-watershed junk food ads.
Now the University of Cambridge academics say a ban could make a “meaningful contribution” to children’s health.
But they warn similar measures would be needed to guard kids from adverts online, where many now watch programmes.
Study leader Dr Oliver Mytton said: “Our analysis shows that introducing a 9pm watershed on unhealthy TV food advertising can make a valuable contribution to protecting the future health of all children in the UK, and help level up the health of children from less affluent backgrounds.
“However, children now consume media from a range of sources, and increasingly from online and on-demand services, so in order to give all children the opportunity to grow up healthy it is important to ensure that this advertising doesn’t just move to the 9-10pm slot and to online services.”
Caroline Cerny, from the Obesity Health Alliance, said: “There is no doubt our day to day choices are influenced by the advertisements we are subjected to.
“That is why food companies spend millions on advertising every year – to make sure, their products are centre stage in our minds.
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“A 9pm watershed will stop junk food adverts dominating our TV screens, and in turn, will have a huge impact on children’s health.
“It is of the utmost importance that we give our children the chance to grow up healthy, without being at an increased risk of physical and mental health problems associated with obesity.”
The findings are published in the journal PLOS Medicine.
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