Background: Television viewing is hypothesized to contribute to obesity among children and adolescents through several mechanisms that include the displacement of physical activity, snacking while watching TV, and the influence of food advertising.
Methods: This study drew on television ratings to examine the distribution of food advertising exposure among adolescents aged 12 through 17 based on 170 top-rated shows across network, cable and syndicated TV stations over the 9-month period from September 2003 to May 2004. A total of 238,353 30-second equivalent advertisements on the top-rated shows were assessed. Each advertisement was weighted by its rating to measure actual exposure to advertisements.
Results: The results showed that among total nonprogram content time, food-related products accounted for roughly one fifth of advertising exposure. Excluding TV promotions and public service announcements, as a proportion of all product advertising, total food-related advertising made up 26% of advertised products viewed by adolescents. By race, the proportion of advertising exposure to food products was 14% greater for African-American versus white adolescents and total exposure to food advertising would be even larger for African-American teens given that, on average, they watched more TV. Fast food was the most frequently viewed food product category comprising 23% of all food-related advertisements among adolescents.
Conclusions: Food ads made up just over one quarter of TV ads viewed by adolescents with the most commonly viewed products of fast food, sweets, and beverage products well within the reach of their own purchasing power.