Reality TV bombards viewers with junk food in up to 90% of episodes, study finds

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Reality TV has been accused of promoting unrealistic body images and causing restrictive eating disorders in recent years.

But new analysis suggests shows like Love Island and Keeping Up with the Kardashians may also be playing a role in obesity. 

Junk food was shown in nearly 90 per cent of the hundreds of reality TV episodes watched by researchers at Nottingham Trent University.

While reality TV is typically associated with reinforcing negative body images that are too thin, the researchers said it could also encourage viewers to turn to unhealthy snacks. 

Dr Alexander Barker, lead author of the study, warned the shows are ‘widely viewed’ by young people who are likely to copy what ‘inspirational role models’ consume.

Researchers at Nottingham Trent University, who watched hundreds of episodes of reality TV, found 88 per cent of programmes showed junk food at an average rate of once every eight minutes. Pictured: Kim Kardashian eating chips on Keeping Up with the Kardashians

Researchers at Nottingham Trent University, who watched hundreds of episodes of reality TV, found 88 per cent of programmes showed junk food at an average rate of once every eight minutes. Pictured: Kim Kardashian eating chips on Keeping Up with the Kardashians

James Argent and Joey Essex scoff hotdogs on an episode of The Only Way Is Essex

James Argent and Joey Essex scoff hotdogs on an episode of The Only Way Is Essex

Sophie Kasaei eats pizza on Geordie Shore

Sophie Kasaei eats pizza on Geordie Shore 

Current rules on the imagery children can be exposed to through TV ‘are not sufficient and need revising’, Dr Barker added.

The findings come amid soaring obesity rates across the UK, with more than a quarter of adults and one in three youngsters obese by the time they leave school.

Researchers watched every episode of 20 reality TV series broadcast in English-speaking countries between 2019 and 2020 to determine how exposed viewers were to foods high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS), as well as tobacco and alcohol.

Among the most shows were Love Island, Married at First Sight and Keeping Up with the Kardashians, along with Geordie Shore, Made in Chelsea and The Only Way is Essex.

The researchers calculated the proportion of one-minute intervals that referenced unhealthy products – either being consumed, discussed or in the background.

Junk foods were shown in 234 episodes (88 per cent). A shocking 13 per cent of the entire run-time of all the shows combined had unhealthy food in it.

HOW BAD IS ENGLAND’S OBESITY CRISIS? 

Latest figures show 28 per cent of adults in England are obese, while one in three children are overweight or obese by the time they leave school.

And the World Health Organization warned Britain is on track to be the fattest country in Europe within a decade.

Health officials have blamed meal delivery apps for fuelling the obesity crisis by encouraging over-eating and physical inactivity.

And poor eating habits were spurred by the pandemic, when Britons became hooked on having food dropped at their door after being ordered to stay at home.

The NHS spends more than £6billion per year treating obesity-related health problems and the cost is set to rocket to £9.7billion by 2050. Obesity is also the second biggest cause of cancer in the UK.

The Prime Minister announced a crackdown on obesity in 2020 after a near-fatal bout of Covid which he attributed to being overweight. 

As well as placing promotion bans on HFSS foods, new laws will ban junk food giants from advertising online and before 9pm on TV by January 2023.

And a rule came into effect earlier this month requiring restaurants, cafes and takeaways with more than 250 staff to list calories on their menus.

And through the NHS, Britons can now get access to apps as well as free or discounted membership to gyms and programmes such as Weight Watchers to help them shed weight.

Obesity costs the NHS more than £6 billion a year and is the second biggest cause of cancer in the UK. 

The study, which was published in the Journal of Public Health, shows Coca Cola was the most commonly shown junk food, followed by Pringles, slush puppies, Wotsits and Ferrero Roche. 

Heinz tomato sauce, Walkers crisps and Pepsi were also in the top 10 most shown unhealthy food and drinks.

Deliveroo — through which people can order junk food — was also singled out by the researchers as problematic. 

British shows were more likely to show junk food content compared to series made in the US or Australia, the researchers found. 

And there was ‘significantly more’ tobacco on broadcast TV programmes compared to those on Netflix — the only on-demand service the researchers looked at — results showed. 

The researchers examined audience viewing figures in the UK for 15 of the shows and estimated they delivered 1.9billion impressions to viewers, including 21.4million children.

They warned that while reality TV is not specifically aimed at youngsters, it ‘appeals to young people by providing a form of escapism and aspirational realism for viewers’. 

Latest figures show 28 per cent of adults in England are obese, while one in three children are overweight or obese by the time they leave school. 

The NHS spends more than £6billion per year treating obesity-related health problems and the cost is set to rocket to £9.7billion by 2050. 

Obesity, which was a factor in 876,000 hospital admissions in 2019, is also the second biggest cause of cancer in the UK.

Meanwhile, tobacco was rarely shown during the programmes.

It was displayed or discussed in just 43 episodes (two per cent), of which 227 one-minute intervals (two per cent) showed or alluded to the product.

Alcohol was the most flaunted of the unhealthy items. 

It was visible in 258 of the episodes (98 per cent) and included in 5,167 one-minute segments (39 per cent).

The researchers said 3.5billion British viewers were exposed to alcohol on these shows and 157.4million to tobacco, including 12.6million and 24,000 children, respectively.

Peroni, Johnnie Walker, Bombay Sapphire, Summer Bright Lager and Patron were the most commonly consumed alcoholic drinks.

Reality stars also often drank Kopparberg, Ciroc, Heineken, Eristoff and Smirnoff, the researchers said.

HFSS foods — which are a risk factor for becoming obese — were shown in 234 episodes (88 per cent), of which the unhealthy food was eaten, talked about or visible in 1,752 (13 per cent) of the one-minute segments. The researchers said Coca Cola was the shown the most, followed by Pringles, slush puppies, Wotsits, diet Coca Cola and Ferrero Roche. Heinz tomato sauce, Deliveroo — through which people can order junk food — Walkers crisps and Pepsi were also in the top 10 most shown HFSS products

HFSS foods — which are a risk factor for becoming obese — were shown in 234 episodes (88 per cent), of which the unhealthy food was eaten, talked about or visible in 1,752 (13 per cent) of the one-minute segments. The researchers said Coca Cola was the shown the most, followed by Pringles, slush puppies, Wotsits, diet Coca Cola and Ferrero Roche. Heinz tomato sauce, Deliveroo — through which people can order junk food — Walkers crisps and Pepsi were also in the top 10 most shown HFSS products

Alcohol visible in 258 of the episodes (98 per cent) and included in 5,167 one-minute segments (39 per cent). Peroni, Johnnie Walker, Bombay Sapphire, Summer Bright Lager and Patron were the most commonly consumed alcoholic drinks. Reality stars also often drank Kopparberg, Ciroc, Heineken, Eristoff and Smirnoff, the researchers said

Alcohol visible in 258 of the episodes (98 per cent) and included in 5,167 one-minute segments (39 per cent). Peroni, Johnnie Walker, Bombay Sapphire, Summer Bright Lager and Patron were the most commonly consumed alcoholic drinks. Reality stars also often drank Kopparberg, Ciroc, Heineken, Eristoff and Smirnoff, the researchers said

The researchers said their findings show reality TV is a ‘significant source’ of exposure to fatty, salty and sugary foods, as well as alcohol and tobacco  

Britain is on track to be the FATTEST nation in Europe within a decade due to country’s lazy obsession with meal-delivery apps like Deliveroo, WHO warns

The rise of ‘Deliveroo lifestyles’ will make Britain the fattest country in Europe within a decade, the World Health Organization warns.

Meal delivery apps are fuelling an obesity crisis by encouraging over-eating and physical inactivity, according to health officials.

And poor eating habits were spurred by the pandemic, when Britons became hooked on having food dropped at their door after being ordered to stay at home.

Health chiefs said services such as Deliveroo and Just Eat have quickly become part of the nation’s ‘culture and lifestyle’.

A major report, published by the WHO, says restaurant and takeaway meals often contain more fat, sugar and salt than those cooked at home, meaning people consume 200 calories more per day on average if they do not make meals themselves.

On top of this, apps make it easy to order food without leaving the sofa, so there is less opportunity for exercise.

Britain ranks third in Europe for obesity, behind Turkey and Malta, with 27.8 per cent of adults found to be excessively overweight.

But this could soar to 37 per cent – more than one in three adults – by 2033, higher than any other nation. 

Dr Barker, a lecturer in psychology at Nottingham Trent University, said: ‘The current study provides evidence that reality TV programmes are a significant source of exposure to tobacco, alcohol, and junk food imagery.

‘These programmes are widely viewed and seen by young people and the nature of reality TV, with its inspirational role models, is likely influencing smoking, drinking, and food consumption choices in young people. 

‘The current regulations around the depiction of this imagery in popular programmes are not sufficient and need revising to prevent youth exposure.’

The UK’s broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, restricts tobacco and alcohol from being shown in programmes made for children and prevents these products from being glamorised in shows aired before 9pm.

Regulations also stop HFSS foods from being advertised around shows aimed at under-16s, while new rules set to come into effect next January will ban junk food giants from advertising before 9pm on TV. 

The researchers said alcohol giants are ‘using reality TV programmes to circumvent the Ofcom Broadcasting code’ to receive ‘widespread exposure’.

They suggested food companies could similarly partner with reality TV to feature their branded content when the HFSS advertising ban takes effect.

And food delivery services, such as Deliveroo, used the programmes to promote their services ‘which may represent a way to continue to promote these services’, so stricter controls are needed, the team said.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said: ‘Seeing people drink alcohol on our television screens glamourises drinking and helps create a culture where alcohol is seen as an essential part of everyday life. It also represents a form of alcohol marketing.

‘As alcohol is an age-restricted, health harming product, children and young people in particular should be protected from exposure to alcohol marketing on the television shows that they watch. Numerous studies show that the more often young people are exposed to alcohol marketing, the more likely they are to start drinking at an earlier age.

‘This research demonstrates the extent to which the British public is bombarded by alcohol marketing and imagery. If we expect any change, the Government must introduce comprehensive restrictions to ensure that young people are protected from alcohol marketing in all its forms in TV programming.’ 

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