BACKGROUND:

Nutritionally poor foods are heavily advertised to children on television. Whether those same products are also advertised to parents on television has not been systematically examined.

METHODS:

This study is a content analysis of advertisements for children’s packaged foods and beverages aired over US network, cable, and syndicated television for 1 year (2012 to 2013). The target audience of each advertisement was defined as children or parents based on advertisement content, where parent-directed advertisements included emotional appeals related to family bonding and love. Advertisement characteristics and patterns of airtime were compared across target audience, and the proportion of total airtime devoted to advertisements targeting parents was computed.

RESULTS:

Fifty-one children’s food or beverage products were advertised over the study year, 25 (49%) of which were advertised directly to parents. Parent-directed advertisements more often featured nutrition and health messaging and an active lifestyle than child-directed advertisements, whereas child-directed advertisements more frequently highlighted fun and product taste. Over all products, 42.4% of total airtime was devoted to advertisements that targeted parents. The products with the most amount of airtime over the study year were ready-to-eat cereals, sugar-sweetened beverages, and children’s yogurt, and the proportion of total advertisement airtime for those products devoted to parents was 24.4%, 72.8%, and 25.8%, respectively.

DISCUSSION:

Television advertisements for children’s packaged foods and beverages frequently targeted parents with emotional appeals and messaging related to nutrition and health. Findings are of concern if exposure to such advertisements among parents may shape their beliefs about the appropriateness of nutritionally questionable children’s foods and beverages.

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