Research article| Volume 41, ISSUE 3, P291-296, September 2011

Child and Adolescent Exposure to Food and Beverage Brand Appearances During Prime-Time Television Programming


      The food industry disproportionately markets to young people through product placements. Children and adolescents may be more susceptible to these disguised persuasive attempts.


      Quantify incidence and youth exposure to food and beverage brand appearances within shows on prime-time TV.


      Data on the number of food, beverage, and restaurant brand appearances within shows during prime-time programming in 2008 were purchased from Nielsen and analyzed by product category and company in 2010. Exposure to these brand appearances by children, adolescents, and adults were examined and compared with exposure to prime-time TV advertisements for the same categories and companies using additional Nielsen data.


      Food, beverage, and restaurant brands appeared a total of 35,000 times within prime-time TV programming examined by Nielsen in 2008. Regular soft drinks, traditional restaurants (i.e., not quickserve), and energy/sports drinks made up 60% of all brand appearances. Young people viewed relatively few of these appearances with one notable exception. Coca-Cola products were seen 198 times by the average child and 269 times by the average adolescent during prime-time shows over the year, accounting for 70% of child exposure and 61% of adolescent exposure to brand appearances. One show, American Idol, accounted for more than 95% of these exposures. Exposure of children to Coca-Cola products through traditional advertisements was much less common.


      Brand appearances for most food industry companies, except for Coca-Cola, are relatively rare during prime-time programming with large youth audiences. Coca-Cola has pledged to refrain from advertising to children, yet the average child views almost four Coke appearances on prime-time TV every week. This analysis reveals a substantial, potential loophole in current food industry self-regulatory pledges to advertise only better-for-you foods to children.
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