What would you eat if your food choices were based on TV ads? A new study in the June issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association looking at the nutritional content of foods advertized on prime-time and kids’-time TV suggests you’d be eating a very imbalanced diet, rich in (guess what?) sugar fat and salt.
The authors, led by Michael Mink, PhD, analyzed ads placed in 84 hours of prime-time and 12 hours of Saturday morning (cartoon-time) broadcast in the four major US networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC). Each advertized food item was then analyzed for nutritional content.
Here’s what they found:
• Of 3,584 total ads 614 (or 17 percent) were for foods. There were 3 food ads for every 30 minutes of broadcast
• A 2000 calorie diet consisting entirely of advertized foods would contain 25 times the recommended daily intake of sugar, and 20 times the recommended daily intake of fat
• During the 96 TV hours observed there were 116 public service announcements—none addressed nutritional education
• The hypothetical TV ad diet oversupplies the same nutrients Americans are known to consume too much of: protein (lots of meat), sodium, fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol
Do TV ads influence food choices?
Americans are exposed to TV for almost 7 hours a day, and food and beverage related TV ad spending was $11.26 billion in 2004. To put this sum in perspective: The federal budget for the 5-A-Day program (promoting fruits and veggies) was just $4.85 million and the entire US Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrition education budget was $268 million for the same year. I’m sure food and beverage makers see proven results for their mass spending—otherwise they wouldn’t be incurring these costs.
Ads do affect our consumption habits, and are especially effective on the very young. Most toddlers can’t tell programming and advertising apart and many toddlers have been known to sing the tunes and repeat the message after being exposed to some ads just once, and to remain loyal to a brand forever.
Suggestions for a healthier advertizing environment
The authors have a few recommendations:
• Consumer education: Let the public know that food advertizing has a bias for foods that provide a whole day’s worth of sugar and fat in a single serving
• Food industry education and collaboration: Let food makers know they’re promoting nutritionally imbalanced foods (Does anyone actually believe they aren’t aware of that?)
• Public media strategies: Air more public service announcements to balance the nutrition message
• Regulation: Require nutritional warnings for imbalanced foods similar to those mandated on direct-to-consumer drug ads
I’d like to add a few suggestions of my own:
• Teach your kids how to apply critical thinking skills to the ads they see: here’s a Federal Trade Commission website with some great tools and fun games that may help
• Turn the TV off: Sorry, I know some say we’re in the midst of a new golden age of TV, and there are some very good programs to watch, but I truly believe that watching much less TV is a health promoting bit of advice, especially if you have kids at home. The 1 to 2 hours of quality programming per day upper limit suggested by the American Academy of Pediatrics seems indulgent enough
On the up side: I watched the French Open men's finals yesterday, and during these not necessarily representative few hours on NBC, food ads were scarce and Rafael Nadal drank water and ate a few bites of banana at critical points in the match (Nadal is well known for his banana habits)—overall a viewing session with a balanced health message.
I assume the researchers are still recovering from the 96-hour TV overload.
Reposted as part of Food Renegate's Fight Back Fridays--go join the food fight!