Background Critics argue that regulation of non-broadcast advertising for foods high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) offers less protection to children than regulation of broadcast advertising. This is concerning as viewing habits now exist across a range of media platforms. There is a lack of research engaging with young people about the shifting nature of advertising for foods HFSS, particularly those aged 12–15 as they are often not included in industry self-regulatory initiatives. The study aims were to identify: 1) where young people experience advertising for foods HFSS; 2) their perceptions of this form of advertising; 3) the ways in which they believe they are influenced by this advertising.
Methods We interviewed 65 UK 12–15 year olds in 15 focus groups. Participants were recruited using snowball sampling techniques from initial local adult contacts. Potential participants were provided with a study summary sheet, and those who agreed to participate were asked to recruit a group of friends to take part in a discussion. Participants were drawn from a range of social backgrounds. Groups were held within participant’s homes or within the University. All focus groups were audio-recorded. Topics included leisure time, viewing habits, and the perceived impact of advertising. Young people were shown a range of broadcast and non-broadcast advertising to stimulate discussion. Interview transcripts were analysed thematically.
Results Young people reported that they rarely watched live television, and instead engaged in leisure activities that included watching programming via subscription services, and watching and socialising on digital platforms (such as video websites and social media). They recalled seeing extensive advertising for foods HFSS in non-broadcast media, both on- and offline. Participants reported scepticism and mistrust towards the healthfulness of many advertised foods. Nonetheless they believed they were influenced to purchase foods HFSS based on emotive techniques, such as togetherness, and were attracted to high quality advertising campaigns that made use of various techniques such as music, colour and humour.
Conclusion Young people encounter advertising of foods HFSS across a wide range of non-broadcast media. It both attracts and frustrates them. Many young people believed advertising influenced their purchasing of food and drink. Regulation of non-broadcast advertising for foods HFSS must be updated to reflect these new and diverse viewing practices.
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