Public Health Nutrition

HOT TOPIC – Food environment

A content analysis of food advertisements appearing in parenting magazines

Jennifer A Manganelloa1 c1, Katherine Clegg Smitha2, Katie Sudakowa1 and Amber C Summersa2

a1 Department of Health Policy, Management, and Behavior, University at Albany School of Public Health, One University Place, Rensselaer, NY 12144, USA

a2 Department of Health, Behavior and Society, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, USA


Objective 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.

Design 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).

Setting USA.

Subjects Food ads in parenting and family magazines.

Results 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).

Conclusions 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.

(Received March 23 2012)

(Revised September 27 2012)

(Accepted October 11 2012)

(Online publication December 07 2012)


  • Parents;
  • Nutrition;
  • Advertising;
  • Magazines;
  • Content analysis


c1 Corresponding author: Email