Food ads targeting parents promise taste, convenience, but deliver poor nutrition

In a study published in the current edition of Public Health Nutrition, researchers at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and the University of Albany find that a majority of food advertisements in parenting and family magazines emphasize products of poor nutritional quality that may contribute to unhealthy weight gain.

The Bloomberg School reports that for the study, researchers examined 476 food ads, finding that 55.9 percent of the food products advertised were of poor nutritional quality, and that ads for these low-nutrition products were slightly more likely to use such sales themes as "fun" and "no guilt."

"Food ads make up a big component of the advertising in these leading parenting magazines; about one-third of the all of ads were for food products for children or the family," said Katherine Clegg Smith, PhD, an author of the study and associate professor in the Bloomberg School's Department of Health, Behavior and Society. "This study gives us a better idea about the types of foods marketed to parents in these outlets and what types of messages are used to generate interest in a product," said Clegg Smith. "About one in five ads made a claim that a product could improve health in some way—and these claims were just as likely to be found for the least nutritious foods as for the healthier ones."

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Tagged food advertising