What is television trying to make children swallow? Content analysis of the nutrition information in prime-time advertisements

Carol Byrd-Bredbenner, Darlene Grasso

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

50 Scopus citations


The purpose of this study was to identify, content analyze, and describe the nutrition-related information (NRI) in commercials aired during the top-rated, prime-time network shows viewed heavily by the age 2-to 11-year-old category. A total of 17.5 hours of programs were videotaped during fall 1998.The NRI in the commercials was content analyzed by two researchers using the instrument developed for this study. Nearly one-quarter of the sampled programming (258 minutes) was used for commercial time. Of the 700 commercials shown, 67% were advertisements for goods and services, 32% were promotions for upcoming television programs, and 1% was public service announcements. One-third of the commercials contained NRI in the form of references that were verbal, written, visual and/or that showed people eating. NRI was most common in advertisements for products and services and was present in all product categories (e.g., electronics, automotive, financial services, foods and beverages). Approximately half of the NRI in food and beverage advertisements (N = 108) was misleading or inaccurate. The most frequently used claim to promote foods and beverages was taste; nutrition promotional claims were used much less often.Television must be recognized as a major source of nutrition (mis)information. An awareness of the NRI on television can help nutrition educators aid clients in making food choices more in line with current recommendations. This study's findings also point to the need to develop consumer education programs that equip individuals of all ages with the skills needed to assess the validity of nutrition information presented via television. In addition, it is clear that nutrition educators need to advocate for more advertisements for healthful foods and work with advertisers to help them send positive, accurate nutrition messages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)187-195
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Nutrition Education and Behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2000

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics

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