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Children’s choices influenced by dominance of junk food marketing

The extent to which Scotland’s children are being directly influenced by junk food marketing is uncovered in a report for the Scottish Government by researchers at the University of Stirling.

Stirling’s Institute of Social Marketing was commissioned to investigate the impact of food and drink marketing on Scotland’s young people.

In a study of school children, researchers were able to measure just how much the marketing landscape is dominated by promotions for junk food – food and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar. Young people aged 11 to 18 years old were asked about the marketing and promotions they had been exposed to in the preceding seven days and how they had responded to them.

They were asked if they had seen food and drink marketing involving broadcast, print, outdoor or digital adverts, sponsorship, price promotions and social media activity.

Three quarters of the marketing seen was for junk food, with visibility of healthy food and drinks’ marketing reported at only ten percent. Almost two thirds of the 2285 children questioned recalled one or more food or drink promotion with nearly half buying more than one or more item of food or drink in response.

Report author Georgina Cairns, senior researcher in dietary public health and behaviour change at the University of Stirling said: “Although we knew the visibility of marketing for food and drinks high in fat, salt and sugar was high, the strength of our results was nevertheless surprising. Retailer and marketer’s food and drink promotional investments are clearly heavily skewed towards these products. As a consequence, our young people are not getting the cues they need to encourage them to make healthier choices.”

High sugar foods dominated till based promotions – sweets, chocolate and sugary drinks accounted for 84 percent of all products picked up at the till area for purchase. Offers also featured highly in decisions to purchase – over half of respondents made a purchase related to a price promotion. Just over a third of purchases in this group included sugar sweetened soft drinks, chocolate or sugar based confectionery.

Cairns summarised her recommendations saying: “It’s clear that marketing is affecting the purchasing behaviour of young people. The majority of young people are aware of the food and drink marketing that surrounds them in their daily life and there is an opportunity for marketers to use this is a positive way.

“The extent of sweets, chocolate and sugary drinks being purchased at the till is concerning. Reducing the number or indeed completely eliminating these products from till areas could have a really positive impact on the buying behaviour and in turn the health of young people.

“The research indicates that the most urgent priority is to take positive steps to reduce promotions for sugary food and drinks with reductions in promotions for high fat and salt products important targets also.”

The Scottish Government has used the research to renew calls for junk food advertising to be banned before 9pm. Powers over broadcasting are reserved to the UK Government. The advertising is banned during children’s programmes, but permitted during prime-time early evening shows, which are watched by large numbers of under 16s.

Media enquiries to Corrinne Gallagher, Communications Officer, on 01786 466 687

Youth Alcohol Intervention – Jonathan Bryce writes about his award-winning research


Jonathan Bryce, MRes Graduate

Jonathan Bryce graduates from the University of Stirling this Friday 27 November with a MRes – Health Research.

He has been awarded a University Integrating Research Into Learning Award for his Youth Alcohol Intervention dissertation research. Jonathan writes:

What was it about?

I wrote the dissertation as part of the Master of Research in Health Research course at the University of Stirling. The dissertation was made up of three parts – a funding proposal, an ethics application and a journal article.

The overall topic of the work was based around investigating the effectiveness of an intervention to reduce harmful or hazardous alcohol consumption in young people aged 16 – 24 years old. The main component of the proposal was exploring the use of a conversational style of discussing alcohol use with young people. The aim would be to do this in a way that is non-confrontational and that focuses on strengthening the motivation of the individual to make changes about their alcohol use.

Why was it needed?

The motivation behind the choice of topic follows from high rates of alcohol consumption and alcohol-related ill health in Scotland over recent decades. Data shows that approximately one-third of women and almost half of men regularly drink at levels that exceed government guidelines.

Young people also have high rates of harmful or hazardous drinking, meaning they can be exposed short-term risks such as being a victim of crime or injuring themselves. Late adolescent drinking has also been linked to dependence in later life as well as premature death.

How would it be carried out?

The research proposed was designed for use in an informal youth work setting.  Examples of these may include drop-in or outreach services offering support to young people on issues such mental or sexual health, education and careers advice.

Building upon previous research that found that brief alcohol interventions were both acceptable and feasible for use in informal youth settings, interventions would be delivered by youth workers opportunistically. These would then allow the youth worker to engage the young person in a short conversation about their alcohol use and, where appropriate, setting goals such as reducing the quantity or frequency of alcohol the consume.

How will it improve/help practice?

If found to be effective, the intervention has the potential to improve current practice in youth work settings by providing a tool for youth workers that is evidence-based and which can lead to better outcomes for the young people they are in contact with. The most immediate impact is likely to be consideration and discussion about the young person’s alcohol use. Long-term benefits might include improved health and well-being and reductions in alcohol-related ill health.

Jonathan Bryce, MRes Health Graduate
24 November 2015

Meningitis Day 2015 – diagnosing better outcomes

To mark ‪Meningitis‬ Day on 24 April 2015 our Research Office colleague Rachel Beaton wrote this personal piece for the @longitude_prize blog. The Longitude Prize is for work looking to overcome the global issue of antibiotic resistance.

“Meningitis poses a difficult problem for doctors as it can present either as a bacterial or viral infection; finding out which is present in a patient as quickly as possible is crucial. Rachel Beaton from the University of Stirling shares her personal story of being diagnosed with meningitis, with a doctor’s perspective from Prize Advisory Panel member Professor Chris Butler.”

View the article here: