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Television Food Advertising and Children in the United States (page 2)

— The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation
Updated on Feb 18, 2011

Overview Of Methodology

Programming Sample

Because children's viewing habits vary substantially by age, the study's findings are presented separately for children ages 2–7, 8– 12, and 13–17. Nielsen data were used to determine the top 10 networks for each of the three age groups in the study. Any network in the top 10 for any one of the age groups was included in the sample. Black Entertainment Television (BET) was also included because previous Kaiser Family Foundation research had found it to be in the top 10 networks among all 8–18-year-olds and the number-one network for African American youth ages 8–18. In all, 13 networks were included. Six were commercial broadcast networks: ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, WB, and UPN.1 Six were commercial cable networks: ABC Family, BET, The Cartoon Network, Disney, MTV, and Nickelodeon. The final network was PBS, a noncommercial broadcast network.

For each network, a week's worth of programming was analyzed, using the composite week sampling method to minimize the potential of capturing atypical programming. All programming from 6:00 a.m. through midnight was recorded. The bulk of the sample was collected from the last week in May through mid-July 2005; an additional 150 hours were recorded from mid-July through the first week of September, and 12 hours were recorded after September. A total of 1,638 hours of content were recorded and analyzed, 126 hours for each of the 13 networks.

Coding the Sample

All programming was reviewed by researchers trained through the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University, and all non-program content was coded. Every coder completed approximately 17 hours of formal training over a 6-week period, plus nine hours of homework assignments. Final intercoder reliability scores ranged from .86 to 1.00. These scores are very good and are consistent with publication standards for refereed journals.

A total of 40,152 ads and 996 public service announcements (PSAs) were identified and coded by type of product, service, or issue (See Table 1). Of these ads, a total of 8,854 were for food or beverages. The food ads were coded across 35 variables (described in detail in Methodology), including type of food, primary persuasive appeal, target audience, use of premiums, depiction of physical activity, health claims, and promotion of a website. The network, day of week, time of day, and genre of programming were also recorded for each food ad and PSA. Using SPSS, the amount and nature of food advertising and PSAs were then calculated for the entire program sample, as well as for each network, day of week, time of day, and genre.

Viewing Patterns

Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation's previous studies of children's media use (Roberts & Foehr, 2004; Roberts & Foehr, 2005) were used for estimates of the total amount of television viewing by each of the three age groups, as well as the proportion of viewing for each network, day of week, and genre. These results data were combined with the data on advertising content to yield estimates of the amount and nature of advertising actually seen by children. These results take into account children's viewing patterns, including the total amount of time they spend viewing, and the proportion of their viewing time that is spent watching cable vs. broadcast, weekend vs. weekday, ad-supported vs. commercial-free, and children's vs. non-children's programming.

Key Findings

Overall exposure to advertising among children (on all topics) 

  • Given the amount of time they spend watching TV each day and the mix in programming and networks that they view, children ages 2–7 see an average of 17 minutes of advertising a day (17:32 min, 38 ads) for all products (toys, food, media, and so on). For 8–12-year-olds, the comparable figure is 37 minutes a day of advertising (37:44 min, 83 ads). For 13–17- year-olds, it's 35 minutes a day of advertising (35:47 min, 79 ads).
  • From an annual perspective, children ages 2–7 are exposed to an average of 13,904 TV ads a year for all products, while the comparable figures are 30,155 ads for 8–12-year-olds, and 28,655 ads for teens ages 13–17. This represents more than 106 hours (106:39 hr) a year of advertising for the 2–7- year-olds, nearly 230 hours (229:31 hr) a year for the 8–12-year-olds, and 217 hours (217:37 hr) a year for the 13–17-year-olds.

Exposure to food advertising among children

  • Children ages 2–7 see an average of 12 food ads a day on TV. Over the course of a year, this translates into an average of more than 4,400 food ads—nearly 30 hours (29:31 hr) of food advertising.
  • Children ages 8–12 see an average of 21 food ads a day on TV. Over the course of a year, this translates into an average of more than 7,600 food ads—over 50 hours (50:48 hr) of food advertising.
  • Teenagers ages 13–17 see an average of 17 food ads a day on TV. Over the course of a year, this translates into an average of more than 6,000 food ads—over 40 hours (40:50 hr) of food advertising.
  • Half (50%) of all ad time on children's shows is for food. n Among all ads children see, food is the largest product category for all ages (32% for 2–7-year-olds, 25% for 8–12-year-olds, and 22% for 13–17-year-olds), followed by media and travel/entertainment.

Types of food products in ads targeting children and teens

  • 34% are for candy and snacks, 28% are for cereal, and 10% are for fast food.
  • 4% are for dairy products, 1% are for fruit juices, and none are for fruits or vegetables.

Appeals used in food ads targeting children or teens

  • Among all food ads targeting children and teens, the most common primary appeal is taste (34% of all ads), followed by fun (18%), the inclusion of premiums or contests (16%), and the fact that a product is unique or new (10%).
  • Two percent of all food ads targeting children or teens use claims about health or nutrition as a primary or secondary appeal in the ad, while 5% use pep or energy as a primary or secondary appeal.

Other attributes of food advertising to children or teens

  • 22% include a disclaimer (e.g., "part of a balanced diet") n 20% promote a website
  • 19% offer a premium
  • 15% portray an active lifestyle
  • 13% include at least one specific health claim
  • 11% use a children's TV or movie character
  • 7% feature a contest or sweepstakes

Exposure to PSAs on fitness and nutrition among children

  • Children ages 2–7 see an average of one PSA on fitness or nutrition every 2-3 days. Over the course of a year, this translates into an average of 164 PSAs on fitness or nutrition, or 1 hour and 25 minutes.
  • Children ages 8–12 see an average of one PSA on fitness or nutrition every 2-3 days. Over the course of a year, this translates into an average of 158 PSAs on fitness or nutrition, or 1 hour and 15 minutes worth of such messages.
  • Teenagers ages 13–17 see less than one PSA on fitness or nutrition per week. Over the course of a year, this translates into an average of 47 PSAs on fitness or nutrition, or 25 minutes of such content.
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