Effects of Unhealthy Food Advertising on Children

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Background of Study

In current days, a great number of researchers had argued over the actual influences of unhealthy food advertising to children and its linkage with alarming rate of obesity cases among children nowadays. Food advertising brings the context of different communication methods that used to increase recognition, appeal or consumption of particular food brand, products and etc. (Caims, Angus, Hastings & Caraher, 2013). It has been proven that about 40% of company marketing expenditures were used to target at children (Powell, Harris & Fox, 2013; Speers, Harris, & Schwartz, 2011). The reason is because children are much easily being influenced, and children will easily be recognized approximately 200 product brands before turning first grade (Nadeau, 2011).

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Fast food companies spend millions of dollars per year in marketing. For instants, McDonald’s spent 723 million dollars in marketing in year 2004 and they even formed alliances with other companies such as toy companies, film production companies for cross promotion in order to reach children on a larger scale and to increase the amount of sales of children meal (Nadeau, 2011). It was been proven that unhealthy food marketing can have severe short-term effects on unhealthy food consumption among children and there are some evidences of long-term effects as well (Epstein, Roemmich & Robinson, 2008).

Despite companies spent significant amount of marketing expenditure targeting on children, research had shown a strong negative perception of advertising towards children from parents internationally (Tripicchio, Heo, Diewald, Noar, Dooley, Pietrobelli & Faith, 2016). It was stated the main concerns from parents are the nature of advertisement, the amount of advertisement children consumed and the inappropriate product promoted in advertisement (Blades, Oates, Blumberg & Gunter, 2014). There are several organizations around the world had showed concerns and requested more restrictions on advertising to children (Kunkel, Wilcox, Joanne, Edward, Susan & Peter, 2004). Through research, parents had expressed concerns about their children’s ability to comprehend advertising message, advertisement’s possibility for deception and its negative effects on their children behavior (Armstrong & Merrie, 1988).

Therefore, this research was conducted to explore parents’ perspective on the effect of unhealthy food advertising on children and this research involved interviewing parents because parents are more aware of the actual effects of unhealthy food advertising on their children.

Problem Statement

There is a trending growth of advertising channels targeting and prioritizing children’s media in advertising industry. It is estimated that advertiser spent 12 billion dollars or more in a year in order to reach the youth market and children will consume more than 40,000 commercials every year (Wilcox, Kunkel, Cantor, Dowrick, Linn & Palmer, 2004); so, it is not surprising that companies are racing to attract children and keep them buying their brand (Gregg & Gordon, 2000).

However, then main issue is unhealthy food advertising has negative impacts on children’s diet, body weight health. The 2006 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report provided evidences that food and beverage commercials influences the choice and purchase requests of children and it may contribute to less healthful diets and certain health problems such as diabetes, obesity and etc.

Furthermore, a recent study found out that the estimations of number of commercials viewed by children ranged from 19,000 and 22,000 commercials per year and around 3 hours of TV advertising each week (Lambo, 1981); TV commercials has always been the prime medium fast food and beverage commercials and the unrealistic nutrition message which contained in such commercials are inappropriate to children (Boyland & Halford, 2013).

Moreover, Chang (2019) proposed in her studies that the quantity of food advertising children viewed appeared to be related with excess body weight among them. It is also needed to be pointed out that such advertising contents have specific effects of causing children in seeking soda drinks and unhealthy food product categories (Chang, Schulz, Schirato & Hall, 2018).

Research Objectives

The research objectives of this study are:

  1. To discover the effects of unhealthy food advertising on children in Kampar.
  2. To explore parents’ perspectives on effects of unhealthy food advertising on their children.

Research Questions

The research questions of this study are:

  1. What are the effects of unhealthy food advertising on children in Kampar?
  2. What are the parents’ perspectives on effects of unhealthy food advertising on their children?

Significance of Studies

This study is very important as it contributes on finding the causes of obesity and other health related problems among children in Malaysia. It also serves as a stepping stone for the research on the effects of unhealthy food commercials on children in Malaysia as there is no evidence or research being conducted by researchers in Malaysia. Thus, in response to the lack of evidence regarding to the actual effects of unhealthy food advertising, surveys involved questionnaire had been done in order to gather sufficient information for data analysis.

From practical perspective, this study will help to create an awareness among parents that unhealthy food advertising may negatively impact their children’s diet choice and preferences and reminding them to be more beware of such commercials. Ministry of Health in Malaysia can also be benefit from this research as it will create the same awareness in Malaysia and they will start to conduct research on it; thus, establish a set of regulations for advertising firms in Malaysia because researchers had identified that food advertising will influence children’s purchasing behaviors, food preferences and diet choices (Carter, Patterson, Donovan, Ewing & Roberts, 2011).

From theoretical perspective, it is very important for parents to understand that children will try to persuade their parents to purchase certain unhealthy food after being exposed or viewed certain unhealthy food advertisement as children can have great influence and affect families buying behavior (Iyiola & Dirisu, 2014). It is also important for advertising firms to be aware that children will often misinterpret messages delivered in advertisements and they will overlook the positive side and focus more on the negative side of the message (Nixon, 2004).

Literature Review

Advertising on Children

According to Wilcox, Kunkel, Cantor, Dowrick, Linn and Palmer (2004), it was suggested that the concerns of advertising targeting children over television and radio can be traced back since the arrival of mass media in advertising industry. In year 1874, the British Parliament passed a law in effort to protect children from companies to induce them to buy products or take on debt. However, commercial appeals to children only became common since the widely adoption of television and exponentially grown advent of cable television that allowed television programmers to create an entire channel of child-oriented program and advertisement.

Through research, they claimed that advertising industry spent around 12 billion dollars per year on advertisement targeted for children, deliver persuasive messages through mass media such as television and the Internet. Moreover, privatization of children’s media use had became a new development in advertising industry. A recent study in U.S. found that majority of children have uncontrolled access to computers, televisions and etc., which means most of the advertising content they view is in context of missing parents monitoring and supervision (Wilcox, et al., 2004). The growth of advertising industry reaching children and the privatization of children’s media led to a drastic increase in advertising targeting children and it is estimated that children will view more than 40,000 commercials each year (Wilcox, et al., 2004).

As the competition for young audiences increases in advertising industry, it is no surprise that company often show advertisement on children’s media has become common across different platform (Hudson, Hudson & Peloza, 2007). However, parents had shown concern towards advertising targeting children as they have not developed sensitivity to advertising message (Avery & Ferraro, 2000) and they may have been affected by the advertising message without parents being aware of children’s exposure to the advertisement (Moore, 2004). Researchers claimed children have difficulties to differentiate advertising messages from other forms of media content and they should be protected (Moore & Rideout, 2007).

Hudson el al. (2007) stated parents played an important role in protecting children as advertising guideline suggested parent’s main responsibility is to provide guidance for children. Parents perspective on advertising towards children is important for several reasons. Firstly, children lack cognitive and articulation skills, they will have difficulty in processing advertising message (Laczniak & Palan, 2004). Secondly, parental opinion and perspective is important in the enforcement of public policy for advertising industry and thirdly, parents perceived that their children are easily influenced by marketing tools compared to adults, therefore they showed concerns regarding the issues (Young, Bruin & Eagle, 2003). It was worth noting that Treise, Weigold, Conna & Garrison (1994) stated what children see on television should be decided based on parental supervision & opinion instead of government regulations.

Unhealthy Food Advertising

Dadras, Shahi, and Zadeh (2017) claimed that among different types of brand on the market, the brands that are most often recognized by children are fast food chain brands which consists of 92.9%. According to the study conducted by Nadeau (2011) in October 2007 for the U.S. Ministry of Health, 47% of the children stated the advertisement which they saw on television encourages them to eat and drink high calories, high sugar content products, 62% of them requested what they saw on advertisement from their parents and 91% of the children stated they can get whatever they requested because of their parent’s weakness.

Union Nationale Des Associations Familiales (2006) stated that regarding food advertising in France, non-diet products are mostly advertised to children, whereas products related to diet are more likely to be advertised to adults. A study from Watiez and Dubois (1997) stated food advertisements showed on television during young people’s prime time are mostly concern with sugar-sweetened products and beverages, the broadcasting of such advertisements follows young viewer’s television program schedule.

Dadras (2017) stated the time children spent watching television has great influence on them from the age of just three years old. According to a cohort study of over 10,000 children in U.S., it was revealed that those who spent more time exposed to television advertisement showed larger BMI increased after a year later (Nadeau, 2011). Andreyeva, Kelly and Harris (2011) even stated food advertisings are likely to have significant negative effects on children’s diet, body weight and health. The 2006 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report stated that there was substantial evidence suggesting that food and beverage advertisements influences the preferences and purchase requests of children, which led to influencing their consumption. In the short term, it may contribute to less healthful diets and negative diet-related health problems and risks.

Conceptual Framework

Parents’ perspective on effects of unhealthy food advertising on children

Unhealthy food advertising towards children

Children’s desire and psychological responses towards unhealthy food

Effect Process

AIDA Model

The AIDA model is a communication theory which proposed by E. St. Elmo Lewis in year 1898, it is an acronym of Attention, Interest, Desire and Action. According to Michaelson and Stacks (2011), this theory describes the four cognitive phases experienced by an individual before making product purchase decision. The AIDA is a formula which contains 4 steps, get attention, attract interest, create desire and make purchase (Heath & Feldwick, 2007). This model is very useful in measuring the impact of an advertisement by observing every stages of psychological transformation of an individual (Kojima, Kimura, Yamaji & Amasaka, 2010).

The conceptual framework of this research can be explained by using AIDA model as unhealthy food advertising that targeted children can affect children’s desire and psychological responses towards unhealthy food. Children will experience every stage in AIDA model from gaining attention, develop interest, create desire and making purchase decision, which in this case, request their parent to buy the food products that are being advertised to them.


Research Design

In order to gather more accurate data, the suitable type of research will be qualitative research. Qualitative research is the study of social and human phenomenal in their natural state in order to understand and interpret the meaning behind those phenomenal (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005). It is flexible and can adapt based on interaction between researcher and their study participants, which allowed more natural responses from the participants. The research method that will be used is interview where participants will be interviewed by researchers with a series of guided questions. The main purpose of in-depth interview is to let participants carefully recall their past experiences and relate to the interview questions with full detail (Cristancho, Goldszmidt, Lingard & Waltling, 2018). Besides, through interview, researchers and participants can build less formal relationship which allowed for more natural answers and responses.

Sampling Method

In order to obtain information from the right source, the sampling method that will be used is purposive sampling. Purposive sampling, also known as judgmental or expert sample is a non-probability sampling method where a sample was chosen to be representation of a population based on criteria of research question (Lavrakas, 2008). The reason of choosing this sampling method is because we have specific targeted participant which are parents that currently have children with the age of less than 12 years old.

Data Collection

As mentioned in the previous chapter, interview will be conducted to a total of 25 parents in a particular primary school. However, before conducting the interview, researchers will first contact the school authority and get permission from them beforehand. The interview process will be guided by interview questions to help provide insight for participants into their past experiences (Cristancho et al., 2018) and each interview session will last around 15 minutes. The interview questions consist of eight questions and during interview, voice recording will be used to record down respondents’ answer. The followings are the questions that will be asked during interview:

  1. What are the types of media you normally used to entertain your children?
  2. How many hours do you let your children consume media per day?
  3. Are your children love unhealthy food such as fast food or snacks? If yes, what are the particular type that they like?
  4. How do you perceive unhealthy food advertising? What do you think of it?
  5. Are you aware that your children may come across several unhealthy food advertising when they are consuming media?
  6. Do you notice any changes in meal preferences or purchasing behavior of your children after they came across unhealthy food advertising?
  7. Do you believe that unhealthy food advertising will have negative impact on your children?
  8. In your opinion, do you think advertising industry need to change unhealthy food advertising for the sake of children? Is yes, what can the advertising industry do?

Data Analysis

The type of data analysis technique that we will be using is content analysis. According to U.S. General Accounting Office (1996), content analysis is a systematic, replicable technique where researchers compress words of verbal data from interview transcript into several content categories based on rules of coding. Researcher first need to be familiar with data by reading it repeatedly, look for meaning and determine which piece of data have value. Next, researchers will start to categorize the data in the coding process. They start by identifying common themes or patterns the data might share and construct the framework by categorizing and labeling the data. Third is connect the theme. Researchers will start to identify the themes and attempt to look for connection between them. Lastly is interpreting the data and explain findings. After identifying the common themes and connection between them, researchers will need to insert meanings and explain the findings of data and write it in report.

Ethical Consideration

First and foremost, researchers must get permission from school authority before conducting interviews with parents in order to prevent any misunderstandings with school authority. Secondly, prior to interview, researchers must first inform participants the purpose of the research, the duration of interview, audio recordings will be taken during the interview and how the information will be kept in private and confidential. Upon getting permission from participants, researchers then only can proceed with interview. Lastly, researchers must respect each and every research participant regardless of their gender, race and other demographic factors. Finally, participants will be thanked upon finishing the interview.”

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Effects of Unhealthy Food Advertising on Children. (2020, May 13). Retrieved December 7, 2022 , from

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