Food advertisements during children's television programming in 2007: Comparison with ads in 1994 and the 2005 dietary recommendations

Erin Renee Nelson, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Childhood overweight and obesity are two major public health problems that are of economic and medical concern in the world today (Lobstein, Baur, & Uauy, 2004). Overweight conditions in childhood are important because they are widely prevalent, serious, and carry lifetime consequences for health and well being (Lobstein et al., 2004). Several studies have shown an association between television viewing and obesity in all age groups (Caroli, Argentieri, Cardone, & Masi, 2004; Harper, 2006; Vandewater & Huang, 2006; Wiecha et al., 2006). One mechanism that potentially links television viewing to childhood obesity is food advertising (Story, 2003). The purpose of this study was to examine the types of foods advertised on children's television programming and to determine if there have been any changes in the number and types of commercials over the last 13 years. In addition, the food content of the advertisements was compared to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines to determine if the foods targeted were consistent with the current recommendations. Finally, each television network was analyzed individually to determine any differences between advertising on cable and regular programming. A descriptive analysis was conducted on the most commonly advertised commercials during children's television programming on Saturday morning from 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. A total of 10 major television networks were viewed on three different Saturday mornings during June and July 2007. Commercial advertising accounted for approximately 19% of children's total viewing time. Of the 3,185 commercials, 28.5% were for foods, 67.7% were for non-food items, and 3.8% were PSAs. On average, there were 30 commercial advertisements and PSAs per hour, of which approximately nine were for food. Of the 907 food advertisements, 72.0% were for foods classified in the fats, oils, and sugar group. The next largest group (17.3%) was for restaurant food of which 15.3% were for unhealthy/fast food restaurant fare. The most frequently advertised food product on Saturday morning television was regular cereal, accounting for 43.9% of all food advertisements. Cable and regular programming stations varied slightly in the amount, length, and category of commercials. Cable television had about 50% less commercials and PSAs (1098) than regular programming (2087), but only had approximately 150 minutes less total commercial and PSA time; therefore, cable, in general, had longer commercials than regular programming. Overall, cable programming had more advertisements encouraging increased physical activity and positive nutrition behavior with less commercials focusing on the fats, oils, and sugar groups, compared to regular programming. During the last 13 years, food advertisements have not improved, despite the recent IOM report on marketing foods to children (Institute of Medicine-Committee on Food Marketing and the Diets of Children and Youth, 2005), although the frequency of food advertisements has improved slightly. Children are now viewing an average of one food advertisement every 7 minutes, compared to one food advertisement every 5 minutes in 1994 (Kotz & Story, 1994). Therefore, manufacturers are putting a greater emphasis on advertising other products to children. Despite the recent attention to the issue of marketing unhealthy foods to children through television advertisements, not much progress has been noted since 1994. Further advocacy and regulatory issues concerning the content of advertisements during Saturday morning TV need to be explored.

Subject Area

Marketing|Nutrition|Mass media

Recommended Citation

Nelson, Erin Renee, "Food advertisements during children's television programming in 2007: Comparison with ads in 1994 and the 2005 dietary recommendations" (2008). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI1450339.