Online Program

Nutrition criteria and food marketing: The state of child-targeted food advertising across media platforms

Monday, November 2, 2015 : 1:10 p.m. - 1:30 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
Lisa Hurwitz, Northwestern University, Evanston
Background - As childhood obesity in the U.S. remains a significant threat to children’s health, scholars often indict food advertising an impediment to better eating habits among families and young children. In response, 18 major corporations pledged to no longer advertise unhealthy foods to children on television. This consortium of corporations created its own set of nutrition standards by which it judges food to be healthy.

Method – A complex random sample of approximately 350 child-targeted food advertisements across media platforms (television, websites and mobile applications) were analyzed for nutrition content. Consortium standards were compared with both the USDA’s “Go, Slow, Woah” criteria and with products’ energy densities.

Results – While 100% of food items advertised met the consortium nutrition standards, 84.1% of these same food items were categorized as “Woah” foods, or foods that should only be eaten rarely. The vast majority of television advertisements (86%) and website advertisements (80%) were categorized as “Woah” foods, although half of mobile advertisements were for “Go” foods meant to be eaten regularly  Across all platforms, 43% of foods advertised were categorized as having “high” energy density (greater number of calories per gram of food). High energy density foods were more prevalent on websites than television or mobile applications.

Discussion – These findings call into question the usefulness and validity of the food industry’s own nutritional criteria. The food industry may be continuing to place children’s health at risk through marketing of unhealthy foods on television and online despite pledging to discontinue such advertising.

Learning Areas:

Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Analyze differences and discrepancies between multiple nutrition criteria. Differentiate between food marketing via television, website and mobile application-based media. Evaluate the potential outcome of the food industry’s pledge to promote healthier foods to children.

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 strategies. 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.