12 August 2015 10:42

New research from Lancaster University and Monash University, Australia, shows that children in Australia are being exposed to thousands of alcohol adverts when watching sport TV, questioning the effectiveness of advertising regulations designed to protect children.

The study published in the international journal PLOS ONE found that 87 per cent of all alcohol adverts during the daytime were in sport TV when hundreds of thousands of children were watching.

Regulations allowing alcohol advertising in live sport programming during the day when children are watching appears to be responsible for children’s exposure to thousands of alcohol adverts each year.

The research is the first to examine the extent of alcohol advertising in sport vs. non-sport TV. The researchers matched times when alcohol advertising was present on TV with the times when children and young adults were known to be watching.  They found that there were 6,049 alcohol adverts on free-to-air Australian sport TV in 2012, with significantly more alcohol adverts per hour in sport than non-sport TV.  Most of the alcohol advertising coincided with children and adolescents’ peak viewing times.

Although the research was conducted in Australia, the sport and alcohol context is similar in the UK and Ireland, with competitions such as the Heineken Cup, Carling Cup, and many top football teams having an alcohol sponsor.

Dr Dermot Lynott, of Lancaster University, a co-author of the study, said: “While there are fairly strict alcohol advertising guidelines in the UK, gaps in legislation mean that children are still regularly exposed to alcohol marketing via advertising and sponsorship in sporting events. We can easily see this on event billboards, hoardings, team jerseys and even sponsors of major sporting competitions. 

“By some estimates, there is more than one visible reference to alcohol products per minute in televised international football matches broadcast in the UK. If we wish to protect children from early exposure to alcohol products, then we need to seriously consider changes to existing guidelines and legislation.

 “Getting kids interested in sport can be very positive, but the extent of alcohol advertising and sponsorship in sport means that children are building up strong associations between sport and alcohol from a very young age, and it normalises an already problematic drinking culture.”

Speaking about the situation in Australia, Professor Kerry O'Brien, of Monash University, the study lead said: “Taking into account the amount of programming time for sport vs. non-sport TV there’s four alcohol adverts in sport for every one in non-sport TV. Children love watching sport but unfortunately they are going to have to watch a lot of alcohol ads as well. I can understand that advertisers and alcohol companies want to make money for shareholders, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of young people’s health.”

International research shows that greater exposure to alcohol advertising in children and adolescents is associated with earlier alcohol initiation and more problematic drinking in later life. Several European nations already have bans on alcohol advertising and sponsorship in sport, and Russia implemented a ban in 2013 to fix its problematic drinking culture. Stronger restrictions on alcohol advertising and sponsorship in sport are also being considered in Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand and the UK.