Public health campaigners have warned that reality TV shows are exposing young people to alcohol marketing, as a new study revealed that alcohol imagery appeared thousands of times across some of the most popular shows.
The new research found that reality television shows, including Love Island, Made in Chelsea, and Married at First Sight Australia, expose viewers to high levels of alcohol content; representing a potential driver of alcohol use in young people.
The research, published in the Journal of Public Health, indicates that alcohol, in addition to foods high in sugar and fat (HFSS) and tobacco products, appears frequently in reality TV programmes.
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 HFSS on popular television 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.
- 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.
- Implied alcohol use was seen in 4177 intervals across 250 episodes, with the most common being a person holding an alcoholic drink.
- Alcohol paraphernalia was seen in 2369 intervals across 240 episodes, with the most commonly seen content being beer pumps/bottles.
- Alcohol branding was seen in 46% of episodes, with a total of 149 different brands being seen. The most common was Peroni; appearing 101 times.
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 whilst watching TV.
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said: “Seeing people drink alcohol on our television screens glamourises 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.”
Alcohol use is the biggest risk factor for death, ill-health and disability among 15 to 49-year-olds worldwide and yet little has been done to limit its promotion. Despite the recent Health and Care Bill including new regulations to restrict unhealthy food advertising before 9pm and online, alcohol remains exempt from these restrictions.
There is strong public support for the Government to do more to protect children and young people’s exposure to alcohol marketing. A 2021 YouGov poll of more than 12,000 people found that 77% of Brits support controls to limit the exposure of children and young people to alcohol marketing.
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore continued: “Until the UK Government understands the damage which alcohol inflicts on individuals and those around them, including children, and produces an evidence-based strategy to tackle alcohol harm, it will continue to fail the people it is supposed to serve.”
 Sargent, J.D. & Babor. T.F. (2020). The Relationship Between Exposure to Alcohol Marketing and Underage Drinking Is Causal. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, S19, 113-124 https://www.jsad.com/doi/full/10.15288/jsads.2020.s19.113
 World Health Organization https://www.who.int/health-topics/alcohol#tab=tab_1
 Figures are from YouGov Plc. The YouGov survey was conducted on behalf of Action on Smoking and Health. Total sample size was 12247 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 18/02/2021 – 18/03/2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).