Development of a Teen-Informed Coding Tool to Measure the Power of Food Advertisements

The food-related information environment, comprised of food and beverage advertising within one’s surroundings, is a growing concern for adolescent health given that food marketing disproportionately targets adolescents. Despite strong public interest concerning the effects of food marketing on child health, there is limited evidence focused on outdoor food advertising in relation to teenage diets, food purchasing, and perceptions. Further, limited research has considered both the exposure to and influence of such advertisements. This study, authored by Drew Bowman, Dr. Leia Minaker, Dr. Bonnie Simpson, and Dr. Jason Gilliland, used a novel multi-method approach to identify and quantify the features of outdoor food and beverage advertisements that are most effective at drawing teenagers into retail food establishments.

An environmental audit of outdoor advertisements and consultations with youth were used to: (1) identify teen-directed food marketing techniques; (2) validate and weigh the power of individual advertising elements; and, (3) develop a teen-informed coding tool to measure the power of food-related advertisements. Results indicate that marketing power is a function of the presence and size of teen-directed advertisement features, and the relative nature of each feature is an important consideration. This study offers a quantitative measurement tool for food environment research and urges policymakers to consider teen-directed marketing when creating healthy communities.

The authors would like to thank the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, the Children’s Health Research Institute, and the Children’s Health Foundation for their generous funding and support. Additionally, the primary author thanks the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for the graduate research funding that was received.

Keywords: food; food environment; information environment; advertising; marketing; food purchasing; adolescent; youth; public health

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