Soft and fizzy drinks are shown on children’s TV for almost two thirds (64%) of the screen time showing drinks, researchers found. In comparison, water appears for just a fifth (20%) of the time.
The research, commissioned by the Natural Hydration Council, took place over two separate weeks and analysed almost three thousand minutes of national TV in the UK, including almost 450 minutes of children’s TV programmes.
Unlike previous studies, the analysis looked at the TV shows rather than the ad breaks. The researchers noted when a drink was mentioned, visible or consumed and how much screen time was devoted to the scene in which the drink was featured.
The five children’s programmes monitored devoted 3% of screen time to drinks across 7.4 hours. In some cases it was as high as 8% of screen time, but in others as low as 1%.
Soft drink domination
However, it was the type of drinks featured that left researchers with major concerns.
Drinks were broken down in to five categories: hot drinks, alcohol, milk, water and soft/fizzy drinks. The latter category included fruit juice, fizzy drinks, squash and smoothies.
Water was 'more likely' to appear on children’s programmes than dramas, sitcoms and soap operas with 20% of the 'drinks screen time'. Hot drinks grabbed 17%, followed by milk (8%) and alcohol (1%).
However, soft or fizzy drinks dominated with almost two thirds of the drinks screen time in kids’ TV shows (64%).
The researchers also noted how little promotion there was of drinking water. Water was shown or mentioned during one of the assessed children’s programmes just six times, but was never actually drunk.
Media psychologist and co-author of The TV Water Shortage report Emma Kenny noted how TV shows are failing to take advantage of a major opportunity to positively influence behaviour.
She explained how children will “often look up to” their favourite fictional characters, seeing them as role models.
As such, programme-makers are “consistently presented with the perfect opportunity to utilise such hero-worshipping tendencies to positively influence the behaviour of the viewer – including his or her drinks. [They] have failed to take advantage of this opportunity."
Kenny advised programme-makers to “swap one or two drinks” in each episode with a drink of water.
The UK health secretary recently suggested that CBeebies – the BBC channel for children – should “play its part” and do more to encourage healthy eating and drinking.
“We need to help children to develop healthy hydration habits from a young age and the TV programmes they are watching can play an important role in influencing these healthy habits,” added Dr Emma Derbyshire, an advisor to the UK’s Natural Hydration Council.
The UK government is set to publish a new childhood obesity strategy in February 2016.