Food advertisements comprise a large proportion of television (TV) advertisements, accounting for 23% to 57% of all TV commercials, depending on the time of day and the channel.1–5 Content analyses of food advertisements reveal that most TV advertisements are for foods of minimal nutritional value.1, 5–11 Prior studies indicate that food advertisements are highly prevalent during child-targeted programming2, 4, 5, 9 suggesting that children may be highly exposed to TV advertising involving foods of minimal nutritional value. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has recommended that TV food advertisements targeted to youth include a greater proportion of healthier foods.12
Several studies have demonstrated a link between TV food advertisements and child food-related behavior, including increased requests, preferences, selection, and/or consumption of advertised foods.13–16 Overall TV viewing time has been associated with increased caloric intake,17 decreased diet quality,18, 19 and child adiposity.12 One study estimated the hypothetical impact of a ban on food TV advertising on childhood obesity based upon the assumption that exposure to food advertisements are associated with the risk of obesity.20 However, no previous studies have assessed whether TV food advertisements influence the risk of obesity in children.
Applied advertising research has historically applied the following three steps associated with the communication/persuasion process: (1) exposure to the advertisement; (2) attending to the advertisement; (3) liking the advertisement.21 Therefore, having a preference for (having a “favorite”) a specific advertisement could be considered a measure of receptivity. Behavioral research studies have applied this paradigm to determine adolescent receptivity to health risk behaviors such as tobacco22, 23 and alcohol.24 These studies have demonstrated a clear link between receptivity to tobacco advertisements and smoking initiation22, 23 and alcohol advertisements and alcohol use.24
Reasoning that because most food TV advertisements are for foods of minimal nutritional value, and that because adolescent preferences for food advertisements over non-food advertisements could be considered an indicator of receptivity to food advertising, the hypothesis was that adolescent receptivity to food advertisements would be a predictor of adolescent overweight.