Food and Behaviour Research

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Depiction of food as having drug-like properties in televised food advertisements directed at children: portrayals as pleasure enhancing and addictive

Page RM, Brewster A. (2009) J Pediatr Health Care. 23(3): 150-7. Epub 2008 Mar 26. 

Web URL: View this and related abstracts via PubMed here


INTRODUCTION: The purpose of this study was to examine food commercials airing during children's TV programming for portrayals of behaviors associated with substance use, violence, disrespect, and stealing. It was hypothesized that these behaviors would be present and would be more frequent in commercials advertising specific products (e.g., ready-to-eat cereals) than for those advertising restaurants (e.g., fast food).

METHOD: A content analysis of 147 food commercials televised during children's TV programming on U.S. broadcast networks examined commercials for behaviors associated with substance use behavior, physical violence, and other problematic behaviors for children.

RESULTS: Commercials contained depictions of exaggerated pleasure sensation and dependency/addiction, portrayals of physical violence, trickery, thievery/stealing, fighting and taking extreme measures to obtain a food, and treating adults with disrespect. More portrayals appeared in commercials for high-sugar cereals than in those for fast-food restaurants.

DISCUSSION: Findings raise concern about the presence of this content in televised food advertisements targeting children and serve to alert pediatric health professionals and other child health advocates to take a closer look at this issue.