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A content analysis of food advertisements appearing in parenting magazines

  • Jennifer A Manganello (a1), Katherine Clegg Smith (a2), Katie Sudakow (a1) and Amber C Summers (a2)

Childhood obesity is a growing problem in the USA. As parents play a major role in shaping a child's diet, the present study examines food advertisements (ads) directed towards parents in parenting and family magazines.


Given the potential for magazines to influence attitudes and knowledge, we used content analysis to examine the food ads appearing in four issues each of six different parenting and family magazines from 2008 (n 24).




Food ads in parenting and family magazines.


We identified 476 food ads, which represented approximately 32 % of all ads in the magazine sample. Snack foods (13 %) were the most frequently observed food ads, followed by dairy products (7 %). The most frequently used sales theme was ‘taste’ (55 %). Some ads promoted foods as ‘healthy’ (14 %) and some made specific health claims (18 %), such as asserting the product would help lower cholesterol. In addition to taste and health and nutrition appeals, we found several themes used in ad messages to promote products, including the following: ‘convenience’, ‘economical’, ‘fun’ and ‘helping families spend time together’. We also found that over half (n 405, 55·9 %) of products (n 725) advertised were products of poor nutritional quality based on total fat, saturated fat, sodium, protein, sugar and fibre contents, and that ads for such products were slightly more likely to use certain sales themes like ‘fun’ (P = 0·04) and ‘no guilt’ (P = 0·03).


Interventions should be developed to help parents understand nutritional information seen in food ads and to learn how various foods contribute to providing a balanced family diet.

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Public Health Nutrition
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