Public Health Nutrition

Marketting and Communication

Socio-economic differences in exposure to television food advertisements in the UK: a cross-sectional study of advertisements broadcast in one television region

Jean Adamsa1 c1, Rachel Tyrrella1a2, Ashley J Adamsona1a2 and Martin Whitea1

a1 Institute of Health & Society, Newcastle University, Baddiley-Clarke Building, Richardson Road, Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 4AX, UK

a2 Human Nutrition Research Centre, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK


Objective To document socio-economic differences in exposure to food advertising, including advertisements for foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) as defined by the UK Food Standards Agency's Nutrient Profiling Model.

Design A cross-sectional survey. Information (including product advertised and viewing figures) on all advertisements broadcast in one UK region over one week (6–12 July 2009) was obtained. Food advertisements were identified and linked to nutritional information on the content of advertised foods.

Setting UK Tyne-Tees television region.

Subjects Data were sourced from a UK-wide television viewing panel.

Results Eleven per cent of advertising seen was for food and 63 % of food advertising seen was for HFSS foods. The proportion of all advertising seen that was for food was smaller among viewers in the least v. most affluent social grade (OR = 0·98, 99 % CI 0·95, 1·00). There was no difference in the proportion of food advertising seen that was for HFSS food between viewers in the most and least affluent social grades. Total exposure to both all food advertising and HFSS food advertising was 2·1 times greater among the least v. the most affluent viewers.

Conclusions While the least affluent viewers saw relatively fewer food advertisements, their absolute exposure to all food and HFSS food advertisements was higher than that of the most affluent viewers. Current UK restrictions prohibit advertisements for HFSS foods during programmes with a high proportion of child viewers. Extending these to all programming may reduce socio-economic inequalities in exposure to these advertisements and in diet and obesity.

(Received December 01 2010)

(Accepted June 06 2011)

(Online publication August 02 2011)


c1 Corresponding author: Email