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Can childhood obesity be linked to clever marketing tactics?

New study raises concerns over the effect “health” messages in food advertising aimed at children

United Kingdom, 19 September 2013 - Marketers are very successful at imprinting their brand messages in the minds of children and young people, creating loyal consumers for years to come. With the modern-day obesity epidemic now affecting more than nine million children and young people in the USA and continuing to grow, there is significant concern over the effect that food marketing is having on this.

A recent study, published in Health Education, examines the use of health related messages in food advertisements aimed at children. Based on theory and other research on child development, it raises concerns about potential long-term effects on their food choices and understanding of nutrition. It can be freely read until 11 October 2013 by visiting www.emeraldinsight.com/tk/healthads

Conducted by Jessica Castonguay and Dale Kunkel of the University of Arizona, USA, and Christopher McKinley of Montclair State University, USA, this study, entitled ‘Health-related messages in food advertisements targeting children’ is the first to examine, not only the presence of “health” messages, but the actual nutritional quality of foods promoted to children with such messages.

The study raises concerns that, whilst health-related messages now appear more frequently in food advertisements, it may actually be the advertising techniques, rather than the food product portfolios, that are being changed in response to concerns over the link between food marketing and the childhood obesity crisis. It found that health messages which appear in foods marketed at children do not necessarily indicate their nutritional value. Conversely, these health-related messages were frequently found to be used to promote unhealthy foods to children, and were mostly likely to appear in commercials for fast foods, sugared cereals and salty snacks.

Children, like adults, perceive products more positively when they are presented with a health message, and exposure to food advertising is linked, not only to their dietary preferences and food selections, but to their understanding and beliefs about nutrition. There is therefore substantial cause for concern that these advertising tactics will contribute to detrimental impacts on child audiences, and that given the growing problem of child obesity, there is a clear need for action to prevent this.

It calls into question whether the health-related messages featured in food marketing aimed at children are actually a marketing tactic used to promote unhealthy food items, potentially undermining nutrition education efforts.

‘Health-related messages in food advertisements targeting children’ is published in Volume 113, Issue 5 of Health Education, a leading edge journal offering stimulating and incisive coverage of current debates, concerns, interventions, and initiatives within health education. The study can be freely read until 11 October 2013 by visiting www.emeraldinsight.com/tk/healthads

Emerald publishes high quality, international research in both established and emerging area of interest, with content selected for its original contribution to research and practical relevance to topical trends. The company publishes across a range of subject disciplines including Health and Social Care, Healthcare Management, Education, and Marketing. More information on publications can be found at: www.emeraldinsight.com/products/collections/index.htm

Notes to Editors: For interview opportunites with the authors, please contact Ashley Ridsdale, email: aridsdale@emeraldinsight.com, or telephone: +44 (0)1274 785213

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