TV advertising could be responsible for encouraging young people to drink alcohol, a study led by The University of Nottingham has revealed.
The research, published in the Journal of Public Health and involving researchers from the University of Bath, showed that alcohol imagery on UK television is extremely common, appearing in more than half of all programmes and almost half of all advertising breaks between programmes.
The majority of alcohol content was shown before the 9pm watershed.
Dr Alexander Barker, of the University of Nottingham’s School of Medicine, and a fellow at the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, said: “There is strong evidence that viewing alcohol advertising or imagery has an uptake on subsequent alcohol use in young people.
“Our study shows that alcohol imagery, including branding, is regularly broadcast on prime-time TV, when children and adolescents are likely to be watching. Tighter scheduling rules from the Advertising Standards Agency and Ofcom (broadcast regulator), such as restricting alcohol advertisements and alcohol imagery in programmes to after the 9pm watershed, could prevent children and adolescents being exposed to this content.”
Strong evidence of influence
It is estimated that the rate of alcohol consumption in those over 15 in the UK is the eighth highest in Europe. Alcohol use was responsible for at least 6,813 deaths in the country in 2015, and cost the NHS £3.5 billion in 2013-14.
There is strong evidence that exposure to advertising or other alcohol imagery in the media increases subsequent use in adolescents. An estimated 28 million British households have at least one television and in 2015 the average viewing was three hours and 47 minutes a day.
Previous studies have found that alcohol imagery appeared frequently in studies of UK television, some 40 per cent of programmes contained alcohol content.
In 2015, researchers quantified the content of all programmes and advertisements broadcast on the five, free access, national channels, and compared these with the findings of a similar study from 2010.
Alcohol imagery 'extremely common'
A total of 611 programmes and 1140 commercials were recorded during the peak viewing hours, between 6pm and 10pm, from Monday to Sunday in three separate weeks. Alcohol imagery occurred most frequently in the news, current affairs programmes, and soap operas.
This study demonstrates that alcohol imagery is extremely common on UK television, occurring in more than 50 per cent of all programmes broadcast and almost 50 per cent of all advertising periods between programmes.
The majority of alcohol content appeared before 9pm. Branding occurred in 18 per cent of programmes and 11 per cent of advertising breaks and involved 122 brands, though three brands (Heineken, Corona and Fosters) accounted for almost half of all brand appearances.
Alcohol content shown on TV has an effect on the uptake of alcohol use in young people. This analysis shows that television remains a major source of alcohol exposure to young people in the UK and is likely to continue to be a contributor to alcohol uptake by young people with levels of content slightly higher than the researchers observed in the earlier analysis of programme content from 2010.
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