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Homer Simpson may be hilarious, but he has a negative influence on children’s eating habits, according to a new study
Photo Modified: Shutterstock / Andrey Burmakin
20th Century Fox Television / YouTube / Hulu
When children are bombarded with overweight cartoon characters, they’re more likely to indulge in unhealthy food, a new study claims.
Beloved cartoon characters like Homer Simpson, McDonald’s Grimace, Peter Griffin, and others are negatively affecting children’s diets, claims a new study.
Conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder, the study found that after watching overweight cartoon characters, children consumed more low-nutrition, high-calorie foods such as cookies and candy.
“They have a tendency to eat almost twice as much indulgent food as kids who are exposed to perceived healthier-looking cartoon characters or no characters at all," said Margaret C. Campbell, the lead author of the study, in a press release.
More than 300 children between the ages of 6 and14 were exposed to either normal-weight cartoon characters or overweight characters (defined as ovoid, or egg-shaped). Those exposed to the overweight characters ate unhealthier food.
The study also found the effects of the overweight characters were curtailed when children considered their previous health knowledge. Children were asked to identify the healthier option in scenarios such as soda versus milk and playing inside versus playing outside before watching cartoons featuring overweight characters. In this scenario, children’s consumption of unhealthy food was lower than it was when they weren’t asked about good health habits.
Are Overweight Cartoon Characters Negatively Affecting Children’s Eating Habits? - Recipes
This study explored whether a cartoon show with healthy eating messages positively affected children's food choices and food preferences.
Experimental between-subjects design.
Four elementary schools in Portugal were investigated.
Children (aged 4–8 years n = 142) were randomly assigned to 1 of 2 groups: a comparison group (n = 73) was exposed to cartoons with no reference to food and an intervention group (n = 69) was exposed to cartoons with healthy eating messages. After viewing, each child was given the opportunity to eat ad libitum for 10 minutes from a small selection of snack foods.
Main Outcome Measure
Number of healthy and unhealthy food items chosen. Food preferences were measured using an adapted version of the Leeds Food Preference Checklist.
Generalized linear models were used to test for differences between groups. Results were considered significant at P ≤ .05.
Children in the experimental group chose significantly more healthy food items than did those in the comparison group (B = –.600 SE = .19 P < .05).
Conclusions and Implications
Future studies may address the effect of prolonged exposure to healthy eating cartoons. Cartoons can be used to promote healthy food choices and can be a part of health promotion campaigns.
Kid TV Shows That Send Bad Messages You Should Avoid
One of the most popular children’s cartoons, Pokémon, is a favourite amongst many children and adults alike. But how is that adorable little yellow Pikachu and his friends one of the kid TV shows that send bad messages, you may ask?
Well, psychologists have analysed the violence levels in a few TV programmes, including Pokémon, and they believe that watching such animated shows can make young people more aggressive.
Their studies show that children identify with cartoon characters just as much as real actors. In fact, a lot of the animated shows actually contain more violence than other TV programmes aimed at adolescents!
“Labelling certain types of media violence as ‘fantasy’ violence is misleading and may actually serve to increase children’s access to harmful violent content by reducing parental concern”, warns Professor Douglas Gentile. The professor led this study which was published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology.
Licensed Characters on Food Packaging Affect Kids' Taste Preferences, Snack Selections
(PhysOrg.com) -- Children significantly prefer the taste of junk foods branded with licensed cartoon characters on the packaging, compared with the same foods without characters, finds a new study from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University. The study, published in Pediatrics, shows a causal relationship between licensed characters on food packaging and children’s taste and snack preferences.
In the study, children between the ages of four and six-years old tasted three pairs of identical foods (graham crackers, gummy fruit snacks and carrots) presented in packages either with or without a popular cartoon character. Children tasted both food items in each pair and indicated whether the two tasted the same, or if one tasted better. Children then selected which of the foods they would prefer to eat for a snack.
Results indicated that children were significantly more likely to prefer the taste of the low-nutrient, high-energy foods such as graham crackers and gummy fruit snacks when a licensed cartoon character appeared on the package. The difference in preference was not significant for carrots. The study also found that children were significantly more likely to choose any of the licensed character-branded food items for snacks than those in packages without characters.
Rather than advocating the use of licensed characters in the marketing of healthy foods, these findings suggest a need for regulation to curtail the use of licensed characters in the marketing of low-nutrient, high-energy foods, say the researchers.
Tag Archives: Cartoon Characters on Produce
When it comes to reaching kids, the competition is fierce. Produce competes with a wide variety of sugary candy bars and salty snacks. Kids’ eating habits are formed at a very early age and according to USDA stats, there are 25 million kids in America ages 2-19 that are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight. Obesity is reaching epic proportions in this country.
According to a consumer study conducted by the Perishables Group on behalf of Produce for Kids, parents seemed split on targeting kids with cartoon characters on produce packaging. Half of parents surveyed said that these characters and messages would not affect their purchase decisions, while another 27% said they would avoid purchasing produce labeled with cartoon characters.
By comparison, 28% said that characters promoting healthy eating habits were a good influence and might cause them to make a purchase. The most preferred characters were from Nickelodeon, Disney and PBS Kids.
The good news is that awareness of healthful eating habits is growing, thanks in part to first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move nationwide campaign to tackle childhood obesity, and television shows such as Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.
In 2010, we worked with the Vidalia Onion Committee to implement a supermarket promotional campaign that partnered with DreamWorks Animation to promote the Shrek Forever After movie release. The “Ogres and Onions” campaign featured Shrek on in-store point of sale materials and packaging as well as the cast of characters on an interactive online game and contest for consumers.
The results were a resounding success with the Vidalia industry reporting up to 50% increase in same store sales during the promotion. Not to mention national features on ABC World News Tonight and in the Wall Street Journal.
As the Executive Director for Produce for Kids®, I initiated a partnership with PBS KIDS® to include the cartoon character “Hooper” as the spokesperson for our annual Fall Campaign on in-store point-of-sale materials and online. We’ve seen large boosts to the web site traffic and positive feedback from parents on this promotion as well.
I personally feel that including cartoon characters on produce packaging is a good start. I am proud of the work that we’re doing with Produce for Kids. But it will take a coordinated industry-wide effort to combat childhood obesity.
The impact of food advertising on childhood obesity
The childhood obesity epidemic is a serious public health problem that increases morbidity, mortality, and has substantial long term economic and social costs. The rates of obesity in America’s children and youth have almost tripled in the last quarter century. Approximately 20% of our youth are now overweight with obesity rates in preschool age children increasing at alarming speed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of obesity has more than doubled among children ages 2 to 5 (5.0% to 12.4%) and ages 6 to 11 (6.5% to 17.0%). In teens ages 12 to 19, prevalence rates have tripled (5.0% to 17.6%). Obesity in childhood places children and youth at risk for becoming obese as adults and associated poor health such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some forms of cancer. Prevention efforts must focus on reducing excess weight gain as children grow up.
Today’s children, ages 8 to 18, consume multiple types of media (often simultaneously) and spend more time (44.5 hours per week) in front of computer, television, and game screens than any other activity in their lives except sleeping. Research has found strong associations between increases in advertising for non-nutritious foods and rates of childhood obesity. Most children under age 6 cannot distinguish between programming and advertising and children under age 8 do not understand the persuasive intent of advertising. Advertising directed at children this young is by its very nature exploitative. Children have a remarkable ability to recall content from the ads to which they have been exposed. Product preference has been shown to occur with as little as a single commercial exposure and to strengthen with repeated exposures. Product preferences affect children's product purchase requests and these requests influence parents' purchasing decisions.
Good and bad effects of Cartoons on kids
Why do our kids want to watch TV? What do they exactly watch over there? Of course cartoons and its a great source of fun and entertainment for them. Me and my husband are also kind of addicted to some cartoons like 'Doraemon' and 'Motu Patlu' :) My husband even installed a game on Doraemon that he loves to play whenever he takes break from work.
Not to blame kids for their addiction, they get to see colorful characters, jolly voices, beautiful sceneries, typical flying human like things without any harm. Nowadays, kids start watching TV at a very early stage when they are not even 1 year old. We as parents only show them most of the nursery rhymes available in cartoon forms so that they start learning early. But as the kids grow, they have growing mind and curiosity and fast learning capability by observing things. And that’s why cartoons directly make an impact on their minds and nature as well.
So, we try to keep it in our hands what cartoons they can watch and what not. And here I am sharing some positive effects of cartoons on kid’s mind.
- Sense of imagination: We know cartoons are way different from the real life but they give children a sense of imagination. My daughter was playing a bike game on her Papa's phone and she asked him, 'Papa, please buy me this bike', my husband asked, 'but this bike is too small, how will you be able to ride it' and my daughter's reply to that was 'Dont worry Papa, I'll get BIG LIGHT gadget from Doraemon and make it to my size'. This was her imagination. We shocked and she rocked as always. :D
- Sense of achievement: Many characters in the cartoons are very hard working and serious about studies, some are very good in sports and some are too genius to do some innovations in science. Whatever it is, it impacts on the kids mind to achieve something or at least they want to score good.
- Keeps them healthy: They laugh watching funny things happen on tv and as we know laughing is very good for heart and mid, they feel fresh. Some characters have somethings special to eat when they get energy. Like, Popeye eats Spinach which can be taught to kids very easily. Various cartoon characters have good physique and are fitness freak as well. So there comes somethings that we leave on cartoons to teach them, we just need to make the kids think that way
- Learning new things: Kids usually don’t love to read book, as a book does not have anything interesting or funny according to them. But a child can easily catch the message by watching. That’s why now-a-days schools prefer to teach a kid with video or animation. And here exactly what happens when the entertainment with learning is good combination to teach a kid. Many video games and play stations are also used for teaching kids by tutors.
- Family connections: In cartoon series, kids have their families in which they show how they stay connected, fight and get together again, how friends keep their friendships and a lot more. All this have a good impact on kids when it comes to their loyalty with their family and friends.
- Language Building: Very imprtantly, wacthing cartoons, they develop good vocabulary which they start using very often because they listen to it very often. They found it like a play when they talk as same as their favorite cartoon characters. At my home, my daughter watches Doraemon mostly in hindi language and she started saying me 'Mamma Aapka bahut bahut shukriya', 'Aapka swagat hai', 'Please mujhe maaf kar do' etc. As it looks cute on her we are happy she is learning something that we generally dont talk like.
As we discussed all these positive effects of cartoons on them, here are some negative effects too that we need to take care of:
- Learning: According to a report titled "The Effects of Cartoon Characters as Motivators of Preschool Disadvantaged Children," cartoon characters stimulate interpersonal behavior, learning and social growth. Children associate with cartoon characters more readily than adults in many cases and tend to retain the lessons imparted more readily.
- Aggression: Many cartoon show the aggression part too. if not the hero of the series, there are a lot of negative characters who play aggressive roles. Eg, in Doraemon, they have one character named 'Jyan' who always act with violence and this effects very badly on kids. They are very small to understand the difference between the negative and positive characters played in the series.
- Medical Problems: Spending most of the time in front of TV watching cartoons without any breaks can lead to bad health problems which can include low eye sight, headache, overweight etc. Attention deficit disorder is another problem arising because of over watching the cartoon series. Reports from Bowling Green State University cite a detrimental effect on the brains of children who watch too many cartoons, including children developing attention deficit disorder and, in one infamous case of the "Pokemon" show in Japan, seizures. Regardless of the effects, children must have a balanced lifestyle that includes exercise and outdoor activity.
In any case, we cant our kids to watch the cartoons, our only duty is to be selective when it comes to cartoon channels or programs. We can always keep an eye what they are watching and how they are reacting to it. As of now, just let them enjoy the cartoons as well as their childhood and we love to be a part of all that with them.
SpongeBob SquarePants – Fast pace affects short term memory
This cheery yellow sponge and his best friend the starfish might be another crowd favourite, but child psychologists warn that watching fast-paced cartoons such as SpongeBob SquarePants, even for just a few minutes, will hinder abstract thinking, affect short-term memory and impulse control in young children.
Researchers conducted an experiment and found that young children who watched this fast-paced cartoon would perform significantly worse in tasks assigned to them and the study authors note that this show has an immediate negative effect on kids.
The frenzied pace of this popular cartoon which switches scene on average every 11 seconds, as compared to other cartoons which switch only twice a minute, make kids distracted and may kill their attention spans.
Environmental influences on children's eating *
Dramatic changes in lifestyles and the environment have brought about significant alterations in children's eating patterns and food choices. Understanding these changes is pivotal if we are to help today's children establish healthy eating patterns, which contribute to the prevention and delay of chronic disease later in life.
This paper describes the most salient environmental factors affecting children's eating patterns and identifies those that appear most amenable to influence through public policy initiatives. A myriad of sociocultural and demographic factors that characterize the U.S. population today have combined to affect what children eat, where children eat, and with whom they eat. What was once mainly in the purview of family decision making is now increasingly in the realm of caregivers and peers, and many eating encounters occur away from home.
Equally important is the plethora of societal and cultural factors that influence children's food intake in the home, schools, institutions, child care settings, health care programs, and the marketplace. American children are given more and more responsibility for making their own food decisions and are constantly exposed to advertising messages about food. Federally sponsored food assistance programs, such as Food Stamps, Child Nutrition Programs, Head Start, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), make positive contributions to the kinds and amounts of food made available to many children.
This paper makes a number of policy recommendations that have the potential to positively influence children's eating patterns and nutritional status. These include: 1.
Provide tools to families so that they can provide healthful food choices and facilitate the teaching of sound eating practices to children, by means of (a) promoting partnerships and coordination among government programs, the private sector, and schools to support the family structure, which is pivotal for teaching decision making and self-management of health and nutrition (b) developing family-school partnerships for teenagers to combat negative peer influences and help parents and adolescents adopt positive health and eating behaviors (c) reform the welfare system to reward work, bolster parents' academic and job skills, and ensure a decent standard of living that will enable families to provide adequate food and foster healthful eating patterns.
Reduce fragmentation and lack of coordination among food assistance, public health, social service, and education programs that serve the same target populations.
Form partnerships with the media to help children improve their eating habits by promoting food choices consistent with recommendations made in Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
An ample supply of healthful foods must be made available to children from which they can choose, and the information base on which these food choices are made must be relevant and sound. By working together in partnerships between public and private sector enterprises, we can make the eating environment more healthful, thus enabling America's children to enjoy better health and well-being.
The Impact of Television Advertising on Food Preferences and Consumption among Chinese Children.
China is experiencing steady economic growth at the same time in which one-third of the world's obese and overweight children are reported to live here (Chang, 2014). From 1985-2010, there was a significant and continuous increase in the prevalence of obesity in children, which is now consistent with the rates in the developed countries (Chen, 2008 Sun et al., 2014). A more recent report revealed that childhood obesity in China has drastically increased due to frequent consumption of sugared drinks (Chang, 2013 South China Morning Post, 2016, April 27). These data suggest that obesity rates are likely to increase, especially among Chinese children and youth, and further investigation is needed in relation to commercial contexts.
The objectives of this study are twofold. First, the food industry is a major marketer in advertising both local and international food brands compete for market shares in China. There was little emphasis on food as a commodity, with emphasis placed on the brands, types, and quantities of food advertised. In response to the above cited problems, this study addresses the branded messages delivered to children through food advertisements (ads) broadcast on television.
Second, TV advertising's persuasive strategy is considered the norm to influence consumers to like, identify, and consume the advertised products (Connor, 2006). Refined studies should investigate the association between advertisers' intentions and consumers' responses as well as on food that is meant for actual consumption.
This is important because researchers have not adequately studied the link between food advertised on TV and the eating behaviors related to obesity (Lobstein & Dibb, 2005). Therefore, one of the contributions from this study was to empirically examine the promotional strategy for advertising products to children to benefit similar economies countries outside China.
For more than three decades, researchers have investigated whether children's responses to TV advertising contribute to obesity. Earlier studies have frequently relied on general estimates of TV program exposure to infer that advertising impairs public health by pushing inappropriate food and drinks onto children, promoting harmful dietary choices, and misleading children with unrealistic messages (e.g., Barlovic, 2006 Keller & Schulz, 2010 Sandberg, 2011). TV has been the prime medium for food and drink commercial promotions and the nutrition messages contained in them continue to be inappropriate (Boyland & Halford, 2013 Chang, et al., 2018 Gamble & Cotugna, 1999).
In contrast, recent studies have shown that the amount of time spent watching TV was not related to increased snacking, snacking requests, or purchases However, more TV food ads young people viewed increased the amount of snacks and calories they tend to consume (e.g., Hoek & Gendall, 2006 Zimmerman & Shimoga, 2014). In addition, the assertions of the association between TV viewing and childhood obesity is reported to be not linked by excessive sedentary activity rather, the association appears to be that TV viewers predominantly simply consume advertised foods high in salt and sugar (Boyland & Halford, 2013 Borzekowski & Robinson, 2001 Halford et al., 2004). Parvanta and others (2010) confirmed that, compared with those who ignore TV, Chinese children and adolescents who pay attention to TV commercials are more likely to request advertised foods, purchase advertised products, and consume advertised snacks. When scholars frame the debate of whether advertising causes childhood obesity, they must refine children's perceptions, examining the role TV advertising plays in reinforcing behavior patterns, and specifically what type of advertised foods they refer to.
2.1 Refining Effects of TV Advertising
The first concern with TV advertising directed at children is the symbolic and social meaning of food to young consumers. Elliot (2014) focused on symbolic aspects of food personality and found teenagers in Canada attached meanings to these foods and these evaluations from the respondents were remarkably consistent. For instance, healthy food choices can be viewed as a social risk, while unhealthy food choices are viewed as transgressive yet desirable. Therefore, public health initiatives were created to urge people to pay greater attention to the symbolic aspects of food that make them appealing and appetizing to young people.
Another noteworthy assumption is that the quantity of advertising on children's television appears to be related to the prevalence of excess body weight among children. Bridges and Briesch (2006) indicated that children engage in variety seeking within the soda drinks and cereal product categories, the ads for which employ dynamic characters and tactics. It is conceivable that a tactic could be intended to elicit several effects. Moreover, it is interesting to note that the advertising content appears to have a specific effect (Chang, et al., 2018).
Researchers have also identified that children view advertising as more complex than has been previously suggested. Several studies have supported the notion that food ads influence the children's purchasing behaviors, food preferences, and specific food choices (Carter et al., 2011 Livingstone & Helsper, 2006 Palmer & Carpenter, 2006). Andreyeva, Kelly, and Harris (2011) concluded that soft drink and fast food TV advertising is associated with an increased consumption of these products among elementary school children. Their study demonstrated that exposure to 100 incremental TV ads for sugar-sweetened carbonated soft drinks was associated with a 9.4% rise in children's soft drink consumption furthermore, exposure to fast food advertising was associated with a 1.1% rise in children's fast food consumption. They also documented that fast food advertising has significant, detectable effects on body mass index (BMI) for vulnerable groups such as overweight and obese children.
The third issue with TV advertising directed at children is regarding branding communication, which repeatedly reinforces the brand name, logo, or message to condition consumers (Chang, et al., 2018). Connor (2006) evidenced that fast food ads focused on brand recognition by building social or emotional associations with products or brands. Licensed characters, logos, and slogans were frequently presented. Connor further concluded that most child-oriented food ads in America took a branding approach, focusing on creating lifelong customers rather than generating immediate sales.
Existing studies that focus on product categories and brands are limited to developed Western countries. TV advertising has diverse effects on different audiences in various countries and cultures. Therefore, one might expect that TV advertising for foods and drinks might contribute differently to the prevalence of childhood obesity in different countries and cultures. A commonly agreed upon culture-specific or country-specific definition of an unhealthy food, and a mechanism for socio-cultural monitoring of the nature and extent of food marketing to children should be established (Busse, 2016 Chang, et al., 2018 Goris, et al., 2009 Lin & Chen, 2010 Matthews, 2007 Moon, 2010).
Academic analyses of persuasive appeals and tactics are vital to dissect advertising efforts in food promotion. In the present study, with a realistic view of advertisers' intended effects in child-directed advertising, we assessed self-reported, externally induced eating. Specifically, we started by testing the actual products delivered by TV advertising. To hypothesize the information process underlying children's attitude formation when exposed to TV advertising featuring a branded product message, we used a specific measure of food and food advertising exposure directed at Chinese children. Mixed research methods were conducted to collect valid TV ads and to measure different groups of children's responses to food products shown in TV commercials.
Between January and February 2016, TV commercial data was collected by taping TV programs (i.e., SETTV and CCTV) that were most likely to be viewed by elementary school children. The ads were categorized as child-targeted if one of four criteria were met (Chang, et al., 2018 Warren et al., 2008): (1) The ad was placed on a children's program (2) children appeared visually or in voice-overs (3) the ad contained verbal references or appeals to children or (4) the ad promoted products specifically marketed to children. The sample contained ads that targeted children with food and beverage pitches, and these ads aired during a total of 30 hours of programming.
There were 10 product categories defined in this present study (Chang, et al., 2018): (1) Fast food and restaurants (2) sweetened drinks: soda drinks, <30% of fruit juice/vegetable juice, other beverages (e.g., coffee, tea, energy drinks)(3) savory snacks (e.g., cookies/desserts/chips (4) confectionery: candy/chocolate/gum 5 convenient processed food (e.g., processed meals, ready-made foods, frozen meals for reheating) (6) water or fruit/vegetable juice [greater than or equal to]30% (7) meat/fish/poultry (8) dairy (e.g., milk, soybean milk, yogurt) (9) pasta or rice/grain/cereals (e.g., cornflakes, muesli) and (10) breads/cakes/pastries.
Six frequently used persuasive appeals were identified for Chinese children (Chang, et al., 2018): (1) nutrition: nutritional content connected to fiber, fat, calories, sugar, protein, and carbohydrates, or product purity (e.g., 100% juice) or lack of additives. However, the coded appeals of ad claims do not include general statement or abstract concept such as eat right or be healthy (2) strength: product consumption will enhance physical performance or energy (e.g., sports performance, stamina) (3) achievement: product consumption is linked with being able to obtain a desired goal or achieving control over undesirable aspects of self or environment (4) flavor: description of a product's sensory characteristics (e.g., taste, smell, texture) (5) newness (introduction of new product, package) and (6) convenience: the product is easy to prepare and/or consume (e.g., ready-to-eat).
An orthogonal factorial design of sampled TV ads was employed to generate accuracy of response. The stimuli included a total of 89 TV product ads generated from 18 brands. An average of 20 ads containing different product categories and six advertising appeals were presented to the respondents in each classroom. A series of random stimulus was rotated among students from ten classrooms to prevent order effect.
3.2 Children's Response Survey
The study protocol was approved by the Ethics Committee of University of Macau (MYRG2015-0123-FSS). Additionally, the ethics committee at the sampled school assessed and approved the study design before this survey was implemented. We also obtained governmental approval, parental consent, and the children's verbal or informed consent for inclusion.
The survey was conducted in the school's classrooms between February to May 2016 with one teacher who assisted in monitoring the procedure. After a short introduction to the TV advertising survey, the children completed a questionnaire, which took approximately 18 minutes. The sampled school was one of the urban elementary schools located in the Fujian province in the southeast part of China. This school is a provincial demonstration school that teaches children from middle-class families. The dramatic proportion of overweight and obese children in this school and the nearby area has been brought to the attention of the provincial government.
To follow an established procedure, we adapted a previous study by Buijzen et al. (2008) with a measure that was based on one independent variable (exposure to energy-dense food advertising), four dependent variables (consumption of advertised brands advertised energy-dense product categories food products overall advertising appeals) (Warren et al., 2008), and three child-related socio-demographic control variables.
The questionnaire was specifically based on the advertised food groups (categorized by healthy and unhealthy) and branded products that were identified in the sample ads as measures of children's eating habits (Chang, et al., 2018). Because these categories and products were frequently advertised on TV, we considered that the relevant ads might be major contributors to children's attitudes and diets in China. The questionnaire also included questions adopted from earlier studies regarding actual food and drink consumption behavior (Parvanta et al., 2010), 24-hour recall of dietary data for the previous three days, and demographic data (i.e., height, body weight, sex, and grade).
To evaluate children's status levels, "overweight" and "obese" were defined according to sex- and age-specific Chinese reference data. BMI was computed by dividing weight (kg) by height squared ([m.sup.2]). The age-and gender-specific BMI standards were developed by a Chinese taskforce [A1]on overweight/obesity and based on a large school-based population in Shanghai, China (Chen, 2008 Lu et al., 2013). To be specific, BMI was calculated by referring to cut-off ranges for Chinese children, aged 7-12 years. Boys with BMI values of 17.4-21.0 were considered overweight for the age distribution from 7-12, whereas those with values of 19.2-24.7 were considered obese. In the same age range, Chinese girls with BMI values of 17.2-21.9 were considered overweight, whereas those with values of 18.9-24.5 were considered obese. Table 1 displays the current BMI cut-off ranges for Chinese boys and girls, aged 7-12 years.
In total, 360 questionnaires were distributed among children at one elementary school. A total of 272 children aged between 7 and 12 years participated (49.6% girls, [age.sub.mean] = 9.9 years, SD = 0.8). The valid sample was children from two grade ranges: grades 1-3 (n = 135) and grades 4-6 (n = 137) and comprised 20% (n = 54) of overweight children and 80% (n = 216) of non-overweight children. The mean weekly TV viewing time was 7 hours and ranged from 0 to 40 hours (SD = 21.1). TV viewing duration did not differ in any meaningful manner between gender, age, and weight status, which was consistent with the previous studies (e.g., Hoek & Gendall, 2006 Zimmerman & Shimoga, 2014).
In the present study, the "overweight" and "obese" groups were combined and are hereafter referred to jointly as "overweight," whereas "normal" and "underweight" are referred to jointly as "non-overweight." Additionally, there were 10 product categories found in this current study during the seven days prior to the study. Table 2 presents the numbers and percentages of children of various weight status levels who claimed to consume the categories of advertised foods in China. Less healthy foods were consumed by 42.6% and healthy foods were consumed by 57.4% of all children. Specifically, healthy foods that had been advertised were consumed more (60.5%, n = 786) by the non-overweight children, but less healthy advertised foods were consumed more (53.7%, n = 254) by the overweight children. In sum, TV advertising was shown to arouse all children's interest in consuming the advertised foods, regardless healthy or unhealthy food categories.
Table 3 reveals that the advertising appeals to both the overweight and non-overweight groups most commonly emphasized food nutrition (23.5%, n = 249), followed by flavor (23%, n = 244) and newness (17.2%, n = 182). Specifically, for the overweight group, the top three claims were related to nutrient content (23.5%, n = 50), followed by flavor (20.2%, n = 43) and newness (17.5%, n = 148), whereas for the non-overweight group, flavor (23.8%, n = 201), nutrient content (23.5%, n = 199), and newness (17.5%, n = 148) were consequential. The Chi-squared result showed that the overweight and non-overweight children's responses to advertising appeals had no significant association (p > .01).
A Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient was computed to assess the relationship between the amount of food products advertised on TV and the number of overweight children who claimed to have consumed the advertised food type. We observed a strongly positive correlation between these variables (r = 0.620, p < .001). Overall, increases in products advertised on TV were correlated with increases in overweight children's consumption of such products. Next, we observed the amount of food products advertised on TV and the number of non-overweight children who claimed to have consumed the advertised food type. The results revealed a weak negative correlation between these variables (r = -0.1620, p < .001). Overall, increases in advertising on TV were moderately and positively correlated with increases in reported food consumption among overweight children (r = 0.59, p < .01). Table 4 displays the ranges, means, standard deviations (SD), and correlations of all measures.
More than 80% of the Chinese children reported their favorite brand to be McDonald's, followed by KFC, Coca-Cola, and Pizza Hut in this study. These results demonstrate that Chinese children prefer American brands that are most heavily advertised in China. In consistent with Connor's study in 2006, most child-oriented food ads in China still took a branding approach, focusing on creating immediate sales while aimed to generating lifelong customers.
TV advertising messages can be considered a purposeful commercial process to strengthen the associations between brand names and the settings, relations, or moods desired by young people. The commercials reinforce such associations by repeatedly promoting certain types of food and drink through a variety of persuasive appeals. Consistent with the previous study (Chang, et al., 2018), the current study supports the contention that several brands deliberately employ appeals (e.g., nutritious, great flavor, and new invented) that promise various desirable things: better moods, making friends, fitting in, and peer acceptance.
Advertising is demonstrated to affect children's food choices that are associated with promotional activity, children's brand preferences, and food consumption behaviors. Consequently, young respondents engaged with and were driven by the directed emotional quality of food. The results of present study show that TV advertising contributes to children's food preferences and diets. The overweight respondents were found to consume higher levels of calories from the measured advertised foods, with approximately 6.4% of the overweight children classified as obese and most in need of attention in this study. The children respondents claimed to comprehend persuasive appeals however, the non-overweight children did not show significant levels of understanding. One possible explanation can be that, in addition to food advertising and marketing tactics, multiple factors influence children's eating behavior and food choices.
Many factors may have created an environment in which a common message, broadcast across national boundaries, becomes plausible to audiences. Although food and drink ads and promotions on TV exert various effects on young people's dietary habits as predicted, Chinese children found many global fast food and beverage brands to be desirable. Therefore, assertions about children's preferences and consumption behavior regarding advertised products are mutually constitutive.
This study has several limitations that should be addressed. First, the advertising industry has diversified the media channels that it uses, with commercial messages becoming more pervasive through multiple channels and cross-media promotions. This study examined exposure to TV content in a group of children, but recent media conditioning may not represent the majority of these participants' media exposure. In addition, because the study had a cross-sectional design, we lacked comprehensive information regarding the other times in which transmedia ads have influenced targeted children. A survey with other media information would allow us to perform a more comprehensive examination of how messages about food are articulated in health discourse. Therefore, the current report on advertising formats and messages in food and beverage promotions should be extended in more descriptive terms to clearly understand and address the youth obesity problem.
Second, the food consumption and advertising perception data were collected through self-reports that might have underestimated the actual consumption behavior. Although children reported their fully understanding on the tactics of TV advertising, Chinese children in the present study might have limited ability to recall the dietary behavior associated with advertising exposure.
Considering the prevalence and increased rate of overweight and obese children in China, the present study supports the assumption that children with exposure to TV ads featuring junk foods are more likely to choose branded foods high in sugar, salt, and calories after exposure. To learn how youth behave in relation to advertised foods, we first identified the food and beverage products featured in TV ads by food corporations and secondly, we examined how persuasive tactics and appeals are delivered in TV ads. A valid collection of TV commercials and the responses from 272 elementary school students in China were analyzed.
TV advertising plays a crucial role in the diets of Chinese children. We established assertions about food product categories and diet effects, which prompted both a scrutiny of the food products' nutritional quality and various initiatives to promote healthy eating. Ads for food choices that target vulnerable children correlates with their high BMI levels. Food and beverage advertisers asserted that children love their products. Therefore, it is important that children understand the specific tactics by which advertisers try to persuade them to buy and consume the advertised products.
We conclude that the TV commercials delivered essential food groups and correct dietary information. TV ads commonly associated with the promotion of unhealthy foods should not become part of a child's regular viewing habits. Researchers can reliably consider whether a food is healthy or unhealthy, and how that affects food advertised within the Chinese context.
Several promotional effects at the product category level were identified and these were extended to the brand level. Food and drink commercials aimed at youth often adopt interactive agents such as cartoon characters, food companies' brand mascots, or premium offerings and promises of free gifts and coupons as rewards for product purchases. To be consistent with previous studies (e.g., Chang, et al., 2018 Moon, 2010), it is supported that children's preferences are not yet well developed, therefore, young children are easily attracted to these marketing efforts.
The present study intended to elucidate the extent and nature of food promotion directed at children in China. In future research, it will be vital to measure multiple levels of the food environment and key confounders directly aimed at the individual level and family/community level in childhood obesity. To determine the association between foods and obesity in children, a longitudinal approach would provide more robust evidence. The impact of advertising on food categories and total diets also should be explored to establish a link between advertised food consumption and changes in eating habits and weight. Insights on the effects of food brand marketing can help policy makers and researchers clarify childhood obesity issues.
(*) The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose. (**) Acknowledgements: This research was supported by grant from the University of Macau (MYRG2015-0123-FSS).
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Department of Communication, University of Macau E21-2056, Avenida da Universidade, Taipa, Macao, China, SAR 100