Health-related messages in food advertisements targeting children

Jessica Castonguay, Christopher McKinley, Dale Kunkel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Purpose: The goal of this study was to assess the use of "health" messages in food advertising in the USA which target children. The aim was to determine if these messages indicate the promotion of a healthful product or are a marketing tactic to promote unhealthy items, potentially undermining nutrition education efforts. Design/methodology/approach: A content analysis of food advertisements (n=534) in children's television shows (n=141) was performed to identify three types of health messages. The type of products promoted with such messages and the nutritional value of those products were assessed. Findings: Over half of food advertisements targeting children use "health" messages, with commercials for fast foods and sugared cereals most likely to include them. The majority of advertisements for nutritionally poor foods include a "health" message. Research limitations/implications: The findings from this research cannot be used to predict the impact health messages have on young viewers, but rather describe the content. Quantification of this content then provides the basis for tracking changes to marketing practices over time. Practical implications: This study raises concern that food advertisements targeting children may prime misleading perceptions of a food's actual nutritional value. Educators should be aware of the need to assist children in adequately interpreting "health" messages in advertising. Originality/value: Little research to date has examined the "health" related messages presented in food advertisements targeting children. To our knowledge this is the first study to examine not only the presence of "health" messages but the actual nutritional quality of foods promoted to children with such messages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)420-432
Number of pages13
JournalHealth Education
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2013


  • Advertising
  • Children
  • Nutrition
  • Obesity


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