How adolescent girls interpret weight-loss advertising

Health Educ Res. 2006 Oct;21(5):719-30. doi: 10.1093/her/cyl077. Epub 2006 Jul 31.


While they demonstrate some ability to critically analyze the more obvious forms of deceptive weight-loss advertising, many girls do not recognize how advertising evokes emotional responses or how visual and narrative techniques are used to increase identification in weight-loss advertising. This study examined how girls aged 9-17 years interpreted magazine advertising, television (TV) advertising and infomercials for weight-loss products in order to determine whether deceptive advertising techniques were recognized and to assess pre-existing media-literacy skills. A total of 42 participants were interviewed in seven geographic regions of the United States. In groups of three, participants were shown seven print and TV advertisements (ads) for weight-loss products and asked to share their interpretations of each ad. Common factors in girls' interpretation of weight-loss advertising included responding to texts emotionally by identifying with characters; comparing and contrasting persuasive messages with real-life experiences with family members; using prior knowledge about nutrition management and recognizing obvious deceptive claims like 'rapid' or 'permanent' weight loss. Girls were less able to demonstrate skills including recognizing persuasive construction strategies including message purpose, target audience and subtext and awareness of economic factors including financial motives, credibility enhancement and branding.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Advertising / methods*
  • Body Image
  • Child
  • Deception*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mass Media
  • Psychology, Adolescent*
  • Weight Loss*