Healthy characters? An investigation of marketing practices in children's food advertising

Jessica Castonguay, Dale Kunkel, Paul Wright, Caroline Duff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Objective: To determine the nutritional quality of foods advertised with familiar children's characters and health-related messages. Design: Children's programming aired on the most popular broadcast and cable channels during 2011 was sampled to form a composite weekday and weekend day. All food advertisements (ads) included in this programming were content analyzed. Participants: Five hundred seventy-seven food ads. Variables Measured: Familiar characters promoting products were either trade or licensed characters. A product's nutritional quality was determined using the United States Department of Health and Human Services' categorizations, based on the frequency foods should be consumed. Health cues were present when a food was claimed to be healthy, physical activity was depicted, or the product was associated with fruit. Analysis: Frequencies and chi square analyses were conducted; P < .05. Results: Nearly three quarters (73%) of food ads targeting children use a familiar character. The majority of these ads (72%) promote foods of low nutritional quality, yet 53% employ a health-related message. Conclusions and Implications: Familiar characters proliferate in food advertising to children, yet marketers do not adhere to recommendations that characters promote strictly healthy foods. Future research is needed to investigate effects and inform policy decisions in this realm.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)571-577
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Nutrition Education and Behavior
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2013


  • Advertising
  • Children
  • Food
  • Marketing
  • Television

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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