Reality TV ‘bombards’ young people with images of alcohol use, study says

·2-min read

Reality TV “bombards” young people with alcohol marketing up to thousands of times across some of the most popular shows, a study has warned.

Shows including Love Island, Made in Chelsea and Married at First Sight Australia expose viewers to high levels of alcohol content and are a potential driver of alcohol use in young people, the research, published in the Journal of Public Health, found.

Researchers looked at a sample of 264 episodes from 20 reality TV programmes broadcast from 2019 to 2020 in English-speaking countries to try to assess the potential exposure children and young people have to alcohol, tobacco, and products high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) on popular shows.

They measured the number of one-minute intervals containing tobacco, alcohol, and HFSS imagery, including actual use, implied use, tobacco, alcohol or HFSS-related paraphernalia, and product-specific branding.

Alcohol appeared across 39% of intervals and 98% of the episodes studied and foods high in sugar and fat appeared in 13% of intervals viewed across 88% of episodes studied.

Tobacco content appeared in 2% of intervals across 2% of episodes viewed.

Actual alcohol use was seen in 966 intervals across 212 episodes, with wine and champagne the most common type of alcohol consumed on screen.

However, implied alcohol use was seen in 4177 intervals across 250 episodes, with the most common being a person holding an alcoholic drink.

The Alcohol Health Alliance UK, a coalition of more than 60 organisations campaigning to tackle alcohol harm, has now called for the Government to take action to reduce young people’s exposure to alcohol imagery while watching TV.

Alcohol Health Alliance chairman, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, said: “Seeing people drink alcohol on our television screens glamorises 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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