A new PHI|Lab study published in the BMJ Open found lower socioeconomic groups and younger age groups were more likely to report seeing or hearing advertising for high fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) products, and that exposure to digital food delivery service advertising (e.g. Just Eat, Deliveroo, Uber Eats), digital advertising and advertising in recreational environments was associated with obesity.
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Advertising restrictions have been recommended by the World Health Organization, and are being implemented and considered by governments around the world, to reduce consumption of less healthy (or HFSS) products and tackle obesity.
This study explored whether there are sociodemographic differences in exposure to HFSS advertising and whether advertising exposure is associated with obesity. We also looked at whether these relationships were affected by what products were advertised and where adverts were placed. Understanding these links could help us to understand the potential impact of advertising restrictions on existing social inequalities in diet and obesity. This is important as poor diet is more common and obesity prevalence higher in some population groups (e.g. lower socioeconomic groups).
This study was led by PHI|Lab members Amy Yau and Steven Cummins alongside Laura Cornelsen, Vanessa Er and researchers from the University of Cambridge, University of Liverpool, University of Bristol, Teesside University and University of Hertfordshire. We analysed survey responses where participants from London and North of England reported whether they had seen or heard HFSS advertising in the last 7 days and provided sociodemographic information.
Overall, being exposed to HFSS advertising was common – around 85% of participants reported seeing or hearing HFSS advertising in the past week. Lower socioeconomic groups and younger adults were more likely to report seeing or hearing HFSS advertising. This may be driven by differences in people’s environment (e.g. amount of HFSS advertising near home) or receptiveness to advertising (e.g. because companies target advertising by making adverts relatable and more memorable for certain population groups).
We also found that those who reported seeing advertising for digital food delivery services (e.g. Just Eat, Deliveroo, Uber Eats), digital advertising (e.g. social media, YouTube) and advertising in recreational environments were more likely to live with obesity.
Our findings suggest that advertising restrictions across various advertising settings, including digital platforms and digital food delivery services, are likely needed to reduce exposure to HFSS advertising and that such restrictions may have a bigger impact on groups known to have poorer diet and higher prevalence of obesity, thus, helping to reduce social inequalities in diet and obesity.
Yau A, Adams J, Boyland EJ, Burgoine T, Cornelsen L, de Vocht F, Egan M, Er V, Lake AA, Lock K, Mytton O, Petticrew M, Thompson C, White M, Cummins S. (2021) Sociodemographic differences in self-reported exposure to high fat, salt and sugar food and drink advertising: a cross-sectional analysis of 2019 UK panel data. BMJ Open 11: e048139. DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-048139