This research is an in exploratory examination of the possible correlation between TV food adverts targeted at children aged between 5-12 years and their parents being persuaded to purchase the advertised products.
It uses a content analysis of a sample of ads aired on TV during children’s programming and interviews with 50 parents to examine how food advertising may influence children’s eating habits and their parents’ attitudes on the subject.
Food advertisements are common in many developed countries. These advertisements are mainly used to entice consumers especially children. According to the Young Media Australia (1997 p.1), Australia is one of the nations with the highest number of food advertisements aired during children programming.
Many studies indicate that a large number of the food products advertised in the Australian TV channels contain high levels of fats and sugar which are associated with a myriad of health problems including obesity. Interestingly, these advertisements are mainly aired during children programming.
However, the main problem does not lay on the timing but the contents of the advertisements. Because of these advertisements, children are bound to show preference for these high fat and sugar containing foods at the expense of other food products that are healthy and highly nutritious(Gantz, Schwartz, Angelini & Rideout, 2007 pp 8-11).
This has been a subject of controversy among many stakeholders especially parents. In this debate, the relevant authorities especially the Australian Communications and Media Authority Children’s Television Standards have been put on the spot as to why they are not putting measures to address the situation (ACMA, 2005 p.6).
The rationale for carrying out this research is to evaluate the impact of food advertisements on children aged between 5-12 years in the period between 2005 and 2010. The study awakens awareness on the role played by media in shaping eating habits.
Previous research has shown that food advertising is very instrumental in persuading children to consume unhealthy foods and this has raised concern by parents (Harding, 1999 p.7). This study will examine parents’ attitudes on food advertisements. It will also expound on the measures put in place to counter the effects of food advertisements.
There has been a big outcry from different parties on the impact of food advertisements on television during children viewing time. It has been argued that such advertisements have negative impact on children and have led to parents becoming more concerned on their children’s eating habits. As a result, it has been argued that they should be banned.
Nevertheless, banning such advertisements has many implications and may not be the long-term solution. This current research will substantiate claims on the effects of these advertisements by examining their impacts on children aged 5-12 who have been termed as the major casualties as well their parents’ attitudes towards such advertisements.
It is important to study the influence of food advertisements on children in this age range because obesity, a condition linked to unhealthy eating diets is having a toll on Australian children.
Failure to address this issue will lead to the children growing up with such conditions, which may lead to other severe healthy complications like high blood pressure. In addition, this research will be an eye-opener to the regulation bodies to tighten their grip.
This research answers the following questions:
- Which age group is likely to be affected by food advertisements?
- Which parts of Australia are mostly affected by food advertisements?
- Do food advertisements in Australian TV influence children aged 5-12 years?
- What do parents think about food advertising during children’s TV programming and the Government’s role in regulating it?
This study is centered on the following objectives:
- To establish whether food advertisements in Australian TV during children programming have any negative effect on children aged 5 to 14 years.
- To establish whether food advertisements in Australian TV during children programming have any effect on parents’ attitude regarding their children’s eating habits.
Epistemologies and theoretical perspectives
The epistemologies that will be used in the research are:
Objectivism (Use of content analysis)
In objectivism, the research will attempt to find out the truth concerning the effects of food advertising on children.
Under the research will establish whether the widely held belief that food advertisements are harmful to children is true.
The research paradigms are:
The research falls under the positivist paradigm as it has used a content analysis of advertisements.
Interpretivism is applied in the study as it seeks to collect data on the parents’ interpretations of the influence of these ads may have on their children and their own buying habits. It tries to understand the correlations between food advertising on TV during children’s programming and the consumption of unhealthy food by children
Under critical paradigm, the research is a call for the relevant authorities to regulate food advertisements during children programming as they having healthy implications on the child-consumer.
Many scholars have dedicated their research on the impact of advertisements to the consumer fraternity (Watts, 2007 p. 8, Harding, 1999 p. 12 and Turner& Crowle, 2010 p.7). The high number of marketing avenues provided by the ever-growing media technologies has necessitated this. One of the media where advertisement has been successful is on the television.
Advertisements contain different contents and target different audiences. There are those marketing cosmetics, drugs or even food products. Most of the food products advertised on television are composed of sweets, fast foods and snacks and targets children (McGinnis, Gootman & Kraak, 2006 p.23).
Advertisement targeting children is a recent phenomenon. In deed, its evolution goes hand in hand with that of the television which became commonplace in households from the twentieth century.
In modern times, the phenomenon has been boosted by the fact that parents are spending more on home entertainment, a fact that has given markets an added advantage and therefore enabling them to reach more markets in such children channels like Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. Another factor that has enabled that is given advertisers targeting children an upper hand is because parents have a high pester power.
This means that they have more money at their disposal that they are willing to spend in buying goods for their children now than in the past. This has been necessitated by many factors like small family sizes, family planning and earnings from both spouses (Media Awareness Network, 2010 p.1).
Given that parents have high purchasing power, they are likely to give in to the pestering demand of their children. Further, these ‘unhealthy’ and fast foods are also convenient for busy parents. The parents themselves must have grown up on these fast foods when they were not considered unhealthy as today.
Though a recent phenomenon, advertisers targeting children have gone a step ahead to ensure that a child will get what he or she wants when they go shopping with their parents.
This is because modern advertisements targeting children address them as consumers in their own making and therefore the advertisers enables marketers to come up with ways of making their brand known which would in return influence the children’s buying habits (Harding, 1999 p.4). The American Psychological Association has criticized this move by advertisers to exploit children, though not per se because of a number of reasons.
The prominent is that children do not depict the traits needed for the mature assessment of advertisements. These traits include the ability of distinguishing commercial and non-commercial contents. The other trait is the ability of attributing persuasion to advertisements and therefore critically interpreting the advertisement’s message (John, 1999 p.12).
The American Psychological Association holds that at the age of four, children consider advertisements as entertainment while from six to seven years they hold that they contain information. Though a bit grown, at the age of seven and eight years, they cannot differentiate between information and persuasion.
At ten to twelve years, children are already entering teen hood and therefore comprehend aims of advertisements but are not able to expound on sales techniques (Kunkel et al, 2004 p.13).
In a nut-crack, the effects of food advertising are many. There is substantial evidence pointing that food advertising leads to consumption of junk foods that lead to weight related complexities like overweight and obesity among children. By 2010, the World Health Organization estimates of children with overweight concerns stood at 42 million (WHO, 2010).
In the period between 2007 and 2008, Australia had an estimated eight percent of her children being obese while seventeen percent were overweight (Turner & Crowle, 2010 p.5-12). There is a high likelihood of obese or overweight children growing up to obese adults and as a result prone to attack by chronic diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes (WHO, 2010 p.1).
This then poses a challenge for society due to health and production costs. Although such ailments have a direct effect on the affected country’s economies, the full affects narrows down to the parents of the affected. That is why parents are increasingly becoming aware of the risks imposed by food advertising during children programming and therefore necessitating the need for the relevant policy makers to act appropriately.
If a report by American Kaiser Family Foundation in 2007 is anything to go by, half of the advertisements during children programming is dedicated to food advertising (Gantz, Schwartz, Angelini & Rideout, 2007 p. 8-11).
These scholars further add that during the time at which children are most likely to be viewing television, there are no advertisements marketing fruits and vegetables though these are healthy products.
Gantz et al, (2007 p.9) also found out that apart from the products advertised making use of the appeal of taste; they also capitalized on other areas as if the alleged novelty and health benefits derived from the products with some said to contain important nutritional elements.
Watts (2007 p.7) concludes that food marketing is “almost always for unhealthy products and this plays an important role in encouraging unhealthy habits which are likely to continue into adulthood”. Research has also shown that food advertisements on TV not only affect food choices but also impact on brands and categories bought.
The British Heart Foundation also found out that the effects of advertisement are enhanced by a number of factors. Simply put, it is not just the simple advertisement that leads a child to buy a certain junky product. Other factors include how the products are packaged, endorsements from celebrities, color and shape of the products as depicted on the advert as well as peer pressure (Watts, 2007 p.10).
Lobstein et al (2005 p.12) identifies a positive link between the number of food advertisements on television and obesity cases in children across countries. Going by this study of February 1996, Australia and the US topped the list of countries with high number of food advertisements during children programming.
The former had 39.2% of children viewing time dedicated to food advertisements while the latter recorded 44.4%. As a result, obesity prevalence stood at 19.9% in the US and 26.0% in Australia. Else where in Sweden during the same period, it had 21% of children programming devoted to food advertisement resulting to 16% obesity prevalence (Lobstein et al, 2005 p10).
The above study and other researches done by different scholars all point out that there is in fact a close link between food advertisements and poor food choices as well as an overall poor diet increasing obesity complications(Ofcom, 2006 p.1).
Although this established link between adiposity and food advertisements exists, it is more difficult to prove the causative link between overweight or obesity and food advertisements. This is because cases of obesity and overweight are caused by multiple factors and therefore food advertisements cannot be studied in isolation and extrapolated as an everyday life cause of the complications.
Nevertheless, the counter argument still stands and therefore this provides for a call of the concerned authorities to take up the challenge and reduce children’s exposure to these harmful advertisements.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority came up with new standards concerning the amount of advertising that can be aired during children’s programming. The ACMA dictates that the maximum number of advertising period is 10-13 minutes per hour for programs aimed at children aged below 14 years.
The imposed restrictions are also applicable to the repetition of such advertisements. Each advertisement should be aired for a maximum number of two times in a span of 30 minutes (ACMA, 2005 p.3). The Australian commercial television industry works under these guidelines.
Despite the imposition of the above restrictions, food advertisements continue to lure many children to consuming unhealthy foods. As such, there is need for a concerted effort by the government as well as marketing and consumer groups in order to ameliorate the content and regulation of food promotion to children.
Television advertises can aid by directing their marketing prowess in relaying healthy food messages instead of the current junky foods they advertise while the food industry acts as the medium in which all these are taking place (Hastings, 2003 p4).
The research will be conducted in a sample population of fifty parents and hundred children drawn from all parts of Australia.
Data to be used will be generated from random samples of videotaped television programs from a sample of TV channels namely Channel 7, channel 9, channel 10, Nickelodeon and free view channel like go. These channels will be selected because they are popular with children.
As such, children are bound to watch them more than any other channel. The recording period will be seven days selected when during holidays when most of the children are at home. The advertisements content analyzed will be those aired during children programming slots between 7:00-8:00 am and 8:00-8.30 pm on weekdays as well as 7:00-11:30 am on weekends.
The data from the content analysis will be coded using a prepared coding manual and entered into a database using MS Excel. The spreadsheet will have columns for entering the name of the TV program, time slot, and number of times each advertisement was aired in each program, number of advertisements per break, the advertisement duration.
Others will include brand name of product advertised, type of product advertised (e.g. Junk food, fast food restaurant, healthy food, toys, sugarcoated cereals, candy, crisps and pastries soft drink, sugared drinks, etc.).
If children were portrayed in the ad and how (e.g. eating, playing, active, dancing, happy, fun, etc), how Commercials advertising are designed to attract and hold children’s attention to the food product (e.g. Action, sound effects, and loud music, cartoon, animation etc)?
Opinions of parents on these advertising will be collected by use of a telephone survey using computer assisted telephone interviewing undertaken in the same period the advertisements will be recorded. A representative sample of parents of children aged 5-12 years living in different parts of Australia will be selected for the survey.
The researcher will use the services of a market research company to undertake the interviews because such companies have extensive databases comprising of representative samples of telephone numbers used for weekly national telephone surveys, hence providing access to the target audiences.
The questions that will be used in the interview are contained in the appendix of this paper. Data from the content analysis will be analyzed using SPSS version 14.0 for Windows and interview data will be analysed using the grounded theory method and NVivo software.
During content analysis, a food advertisement will initially fall in three categories. These include a non-food ad, a healthy or core food ad, and an unhealthy or non-core food ad. A food advertisement will be termed as a health or core food if it advertises breads and cereals; fruits and vegetables; dairy and dairy products; meat and meat alternatives and baby foods.
Unhealthy or non-core food advertisements will be viewed as those belonging to the following categories: chocolate and confectionery; fast food and takeaways; cakes and biscuits; snack foods; fruit juice; alcohol, and fruit juice. Others in this category will include desserts; infant and toddler formulae, tea; coffee, and chewing gum.
An advertisement will be taken as directed to children if it uses child-oriented premium offers like prizes and giveaways, jingles and cartoons, if it emphasizes on fun, excitement and happiness, and if it hints that, the product will make children special or superior.
In addition, the ad will be taken as children-focused if it uses famous children celebrities and sports stars to promote a product and lastly, if it directs pleads with children. If a food advertisement will be found to be directed at children, reviewers will determine if it has breached any Industry Code of Practice Guidelines on children advertisements.
An independent variable is the central part of any research. It is secluded and manipulated by the researcher. An independent variable is chosen by the researcher to determine its link to an observed phenomenon.
Since this research will be based on a social science subject, it is bound to have a number of independent variables. These included the types of food advertised, time slot and duration of the food advertisements, geographical locations of the TV channels, and age of children.
A dependent variable is the outcome of any research. Since the research is centered on the influence of food advertisements on children aged 5-12 years, the dependent variable in this case will be the level of influence that such ads have on children inn the specified age category. Another outcome of the research, and hence, a dependent variable is the parents’ attitudes concerning food advertisements directed to children.
The research will incur numerous costs given that the sample population will have to be drawn from all parts of Australia. This will be in form:
- Remuneration for the research company carrying out computer assisted interviews
- Computer disks for recording of ads
- Researcher’s salary for time spent on content analysis
- Remuneration for the research company carrying out computer assisted interviews given the vast data and time variable
- Stationery and printing
This research poses a number of challenges in this study process. As evident from the literature review section, the research relies heavily on recent research on the topic. This is because, generally, media influence is a highly researched field and, therefore, there are a myriad of resourceful materials on the same. This poses a great challenge on the originality of the whole study as cases of plagiarism may mar its authenticity.
The research is also very subjective. It presupposes that TV ads influence children to purchase unhealthy products leading to obesity. The research does not put into consideration other causes of obesity like genetic factors. Though it is exploratory, the study relies heavily on the society’s opinions and therefore is prone to generalizations that may affect the authenticity of the outcome.
The opinions to be obtained in interviews will be based on subjects with an informed consent to participate in the process. As such, participation will be voluntary. The research will take the necessary precaution not to harm the interviewees’ confidentiality. Another ethical issue that is bound to arise from this research is that parents are likely to be affected by social desirability when interviewed.
They may, therefore provide misleading information to interviewers in order to impress them. Interviewees may also find the subject of the interview prying since they may be victims of unhealthy food advertisements.
For instance, parents could be purchasing takeaways and other fast due to being busy and not being advertisements. In addition, fast foods are cheaper than core foods, an act that may attract the economically challenged.
In order to avoid stalling the study, there is need for the interviewers to maintain a high degree of courtesy during the interviews so as not to arouse the interviewees emotions hence interfering with the authenticity of the data collected.
The interviewer should also state their mission before in order to prepare the other party psychologically. There should also be a guarantee of anonymity to the subjects in cases where any sensitive information like their race, salary, religious affiliation is requested.
Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA), 2004, Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice. Web.
Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), 2009, Review of the children’s Television Standards 2005: final report of the review.
Crowle, J. & Turner E., 2010, Productivity Commission staff working paper, Childhood obesity: an economic perspective, Productivity Commission, Melbourne. Web.
Gantz, W., Schwartz, N., Angelini, A. & Rideout, V., 2007, Food for thought: television advertising to children in the United States, Kaiser Family Foundation. Web.
Harding, E., 1999, ‘Pester power vs. purchasing power’. Web.
Hastings, G., Stead, M., McDermott, L., Forsyth, A., Mackintosh, A., Rayner, M., Godfrey, C., Caraher & Angus, 2003, Review of research on the effects of food promotion to children, final report, Center for Social Marketing, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow.
John, D., 1999, Journal of Consumer Research, ‘Consumer socialization of children: a retrospective look at twenty-five years of research’
Kunkel, D., Wilcox, B., Cantor, J., Palmer E., Linn, S. & Dowrick P., 2004, Report of the APA taskforce on advertising and children: psychological issues in the increasing commercialization of childhood, American Psychological Association, Washington. Web.
Lobstein, T., & Dibb S., 2005, ‘Evidence of a possible link between obesogenic food advertising and child overweight’, Obesity Review 6(3).
McGinnis, M., J., Gootman, J., A., Kraak, V., I., 2006, Food marketing to children and youth: Threat or opportunity? Food and Nutrition Board, Board on Children, Youth and Families, Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.
Media Awareness Network, 2010, ‘How marketers target kids’. Web.
Moore, E., 2006, It’s child’s play: advergaming and online marketing of food to children, Kaiser Family Foundation. Web.
Ofcom Department of Office Communications, 2006, Television advertising of food and drink products to children: Options for new restrictions, Update of Consultation document.
Watts, R., 2007, British Heart Foundation and Children’s Food Campaign, Protecting children from unhealthy food marketing. Web.
World Health Organization (WHO), 2011, ‘Childhood overweight and obesity’. Web.
Young Media Australia, 1997, Sugar foods and fast food frenzies: Report on the good for you or good to eat project, YMA, Adelaide, SA.
Primary sources. The rest of the references are secondary sources.
Proposed Interview Questions
- Which part of Australia do you come from?
- Which age group do you think is mostly affected by advertisements?
- What do you think of children’s advertisement?
- What products have you seen advertised?
- Are some of the products advertised on food?
- Can you identify some?
- How were the products you identified advertised?
- What do your children think of these advertisements and the products advertised?
- Do they ask to have the products after they have seen them advertised?
- How do you react then?