Online Program

Health of the nation's littlest consumers: Child-targeted advertising of unhealthy foods in supermarkets

Monday, November 2, 2015 : 12:50 p.m. - 1:10 p.m.

Heather Zupancic, M.A., Media, Technology and Society, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL
Aubry Alvarez, Ph.D., Northwestern University, Evanston
Ellen Wartella, Ph.D., School of Communication, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL
Megan Olsen, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL
Introduction - Food marketing to children is pervasive and occurs not only through media outlets, but also at the point of sale. Previous research suggests that child-targeted in-store marketing can play a significant role in whether a child's caregiver purchases that food item for their child.

Method - A content analysis of 399 food items from three separate chain grocery stores in three separate major-metropolitan suburbs was conducted. Food items were selected from snack, pasta and cereal aisles. All items with a character on the front of the package were included in the sample. Front and backs of packages were analyzed for characteristics relating to child-targetedness, including but not limited to bright colors, fun shapes, games and presence of children on the package. In addition, appeals to nutrition and nutritional content were also analyzed.

Results - Findings suggest that appeals to nutrition, bright colors, games, presence of children and foods shaped like characters are associated with higher sugar content while foods shaped like characters, games and appeals to nutrition are associated with higher levels of energy density. Furthermore, total number of child-targeted appeals were significantly correlated with higher levels of energy density and sugar content.

Conclusion - The appeals analyzed in this paper have long been known to have great effect on children’s food preferences and family food purchasing practices. These findings indicate that while many companies have pledged to market healthier foods to children on television, many still use child-targeted marketing in-store to promote unhealthy, obesogenic foods to children.

Learning Areas:

Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Describe the different advertising strategies used to market food to children. Explain the impact of such strategies on food purchasing decisions. Analyze the relationship between child-targeted marketing strategies and foods of poor nutritional value.

Keyword(s): Child Health, Nutrition

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have been a co-principle investigator on several federally funded grants, including a major grant on food marketing. In addition, a portion of my graduate school training was devoted to learning the fundamentals of pediatric nutrition, persuasion and food marketing stratefies. Among my scientific interests has been the impact of food marketing on child health and obesity.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.