British Journal of Nutrition

Short Communication

Do television food advertisements portray advertised foods in a ‘healthy’ food context?

Jean Adamsa1 c1, Rachel Tyrrella1 and Martin Whitea1

a1 Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE2 4HH, UK


Exposure to food promotion influences food preferences and diet. As food advertisements tend to promote ‘less healthy’ products, food advertising probably plays some role in the ‘obesity epidemic’. Amid calls for increased regulation, food manufacturers are beginning to engage in a variety of health-promoting marketing initiatives. Positioning products in the context of a ‘healthy’, balanced diet in television advertisements is one such initiative. We explored whether the wider food context in which foods are advertised on television are ‘healthier’ than the advertised foods themselves. All foods shown in food advertisements broadcast during 1 week on one commercial UK channel were identified and classified as ‘primary’ (i.e. the focus of advertisements) or ‘incidental’. The nutritional content of all foods was determined and that of primary and incidental foods were compared. Almost two-thirds of food advertisements did not include any incidental foods. When a wider food context was present, this tended to be ‘healthier’ than the primary foods that were the focus of food advertisements – particularly in terms of the food groups represented. It is not yet clear what effect this may have on consumers' perceptions and behaviour, and whether or not this practice should be encouraged or discouraged from a public health perspective.

(Received January 26 2010)

(Revised September 21 2010)

(Accepted September 27 2010)

(Online publication November 16 2010)