OBJECTIVE. In light of the high rates of child and adolescent obesity, we examined the nutritional content of food advertising seen by American children and adolescents.
METHODS. We drew samples of top-rated television shows by using ratings data to examine the nutritional content for fat, saturated fat, sugar, sodium, and fiber of food-product advertisements seen on television by both children and adolescents. Food products were examined in aggregate and by 5 separate categories that included cereal, sweets, snacks, drinks, and other food products. For 2- to 11-year-olds and 12- to 17-year-olds, respectively, a sample of 50351 and 47955 30-second-equivalent food-product advertisements and their related nutritional content were weighted by television ratings data to provide actual exposure measures of the nutritional content of food advertising seen by children and adolescents.
RESULTS. Study results showed that 97.8% and 89.4% of food-product advertisements viewed by children 2 to 11 years old and adolescents 12 to 17 years old, respectively, were high in fat, sugar, or sodium. On average, 46.1% and 49.1% of total calories among the products advertised came from sugar in the advertisements seen by these respective age groups. A total of 97.6% of cereal advertisements seen by children 2 to 11 years old were for high-sugar cereals. No substantial differences were found in the nutritional content of advertisements seen by black and white children 2 to 11 years old. However, a slightly higher proportion of food advertisements in general and across all food-product categories seen by black versus white adolescents were for high-sugar products.
CONCLUSION. The overwhelming majority of food-product advertisements seen on television by American children and adolescents are of poor nutritional content.