Advertising as a Cue to Consume: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Acute Exposure to Unhealthy Food and Nonalcoholic Beverage Advertising on Intake in Children and Adults

Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Feb;103(2):519-33. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.120022. Epub 2016 Jan 20.


Background: Several studies have assessed the effects of food and nonalcoholic beverage (hereafter collectively referred to as food) advertising on food consumption, but the results of these studies have been mixed. This lack of clarity may be impeding policy action.

Objective: We examined the evidence for a relation between acute exposure to experimental unhealthy food advertising and food consumption.

Design: The study was a systematic review and meta-analysis of published studies in which advertising exposure (television or Internet) was experimentally manipulated, and food intake was measured. Five electronic databases were searched for relevant publications (SCOPUS, PsycINFO, MEDLINE, Emerald Insight, and JSTOR). An inverse variance meta-analysis was used whereby the standardized mean difference (SMD) in food intake was calculated between unhealthy food advertising and control conditions.

Results: Twenty-two articles were eligible for inclusion. Data were available for 18 articles to be included in the meta-analysis (which provided 20 comparisons). With all available data included, the analysis indicated a small-to-moderate effect size for advertising on food consumption with participants eating more after exposure to food advertising than after control conditions (SMD: 0.37; 95% CI: 0.09; 0.65; I(2) = 98%). Subgroup analyses showed that the experiments with adult participants provided no evidence of an effect of advertising on intake (SMD: 0.00; P = 1.00; 95% CI: -0.08, 0.08; I(2) = 8%), but a significant effect of moderate size was shown for children, whereby food advertising exposure was associated with greater food intake (SMD: 0.56; P = 0.003; 95% CI: 0.18, 0.94; I(2) = 98%).

Conclusions: Evidence to date shows that acute exposure to food advertising increases food intake in children but not in adults. These data support public health policy action that seeks to reduce children's exposure to unhealthy food advertising.

Keywords: children; consumption; food advertising; food intake; marketing.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Advertising* / ethics
  • Beverages / adverse effects*
  • Beverages / economics
  • Child
  • Child Behavior
  • Child Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Consumer Behavior
  • Cues
  • Diet / adverse effects*
  • Energy Intake
  • Evidence-Based Practice*
  • Fast Foods / adverse effects*
  • Fast Foods / economics
  • Food Preferences
  • Food, Preserved / adverse effects*
  • Food, Preserved / economics
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Pediatric Obesity / etiology*
  • Television