N° 92 | September 2014

The advertised diet: an examination of the extent and nature of food advertising on Australian television

The advertised diet

The advertised diet in Australia completely contradicts the daily diet recommended for good health and protection against non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. Food advertisements mostly promote highly processed unhealthy packaged and fast foods.

This study examined two months of television advertising in 2010 across four television stations in fi ve Australian cities1. Most advertisements depicted non-core foods (63%), such as confectionery, fast food, processed cheese snacks and beverages. In contrast, only 25% of all food advertisements were for core foods that are suitable for daily consumption, including bread, cereals, rice, pasta, vegetables, fruits, lean meat, fi sh, poultry, eggs, nuts and legumes. Eighty-four percent of beverage advertising was for non-core beverages, with over half of those being for sugar-sweetened soft drinks. More than a quarter of advertisements were for fast food.

Only 6% of advertisements were for fruits and vegetables. During the study period there were no social marketing messages promoting healthy eating. Other studies have found similar low levels of fruit and vegetable advertising. A study of advertisements on the three main Sydney free-to-air commercial television channels in May 2011 found 0.03 ads/hour/channel for fruit and vegetables compared to 3.15 ads/ hour/channel for unhealthy foods2.

The advertising dollar

The expenditure on television food advertising for the two month study period was Au$233 million. In stark contrast, in 2004, the Australian government allocated Au$116 million over four years « to tackle the growing problem of declining physical activity and poor eating habits of Australian children”. One part of that initiative involved delivering the Go for 2&5® information campaign that promotes the daily fruit and vegetable consumption recommendations.3

Although Go for 2&5® was successful in generating awareness amongst parents and children and produced an increase in the proportion of parents consuming vegetables at moderate levels3,behaviour change requires sustained campaigns.

Protecting adults and children

A high level of repetition of advertisements is common in Australia. Repetition can infl uence brand preference and choice by creating top-of-mind awareness of that brand4. Although adults should recognise the persuasive intent of advertising and in theory can protect themselves from it, this could be undermined by the sheer magnitude of non-core food advertisements. Recent research suggests that many adults are just as susceptible to food advertising as children5.

It is important to ensure people understand the misalignment between the advertised diet and the recommended diet. There is a need for more social marketing messages providing information about the characteristics of a healthy diet and the importance of a nutritious diet, including fruit and vegetables, to overall health.

Although there is limited research on the effect of advertising on people’s diets, there is almost 40 years of evidence on the infl uence and effect of food marketing to children6. Such marketing infl uences children’s nutrition knowledge, food preferences and purchase behaviour; encourages them to ask their parents to purchase foods they have seen advertised; influences the food they eat; and ultimately adversely affects their health6. A public health priority has to be to protect children from the power of advertising, keeping in mind that adults also may not be immune

  1. Roberts M, Pettigrew S, Chapman K, Quester P, Miller C. The advertised diet: an examination of the extent and nature of food advertising on Australian television. Health Promot J Austr 2013 Oct;24(2):137-42.
  2. King L, Hebden L, Grunseit A, Kelly B, Chapman K. Building the case for independent monitoring of food advertising on Australian television. Public Health Nutrition 2013 Dec;16(12):2249-54.
  3. Woolcott Research. Evaluation of the national Go for 2&5® campaign. Canberra, Australia: Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing; 2007 Jan.
  4. D’Souza G, Rao RC. Can repeating an advertisement more frequently than the competition affect brand preference in a mature market? J Mark 1995;59:32-42.
  5. Pettigrew S, Tarabashkina L, Roberts M, Quester P, Chapman K, Miller C. The effects of television and Internet food advertising on parents and children. Public Health Nutrition 2013 Dec;16(12):2205-12.
  6. Cairns G, Angus K, Hastings G, Caraher M. Systematic reviews of the evidence on the nature, extent and effects of food marketing to children. A retrospective summary. Appetite 2013 Mar;62:209-15.
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