TV encourages nutritional imbalance, claim researchers

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

Food choices endorsed by television advertising fail to meet nutritional guidelines and encourage nutritional imbalance, according to new research from the American Dietetic Association (ADA).

The research, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, ​found that if a person with a daily intake of 2,000 calories only ate foods they saw on television, they would consume 25 times the daily recommended amount of sugars and 20 times recommended amount of fat, but fewer than half the recommended servings of dairy, fruit and vegetables. The study’s authors analyzed 84 hours of primetime and 12 hours of Saturday morning television across four networks over a 28-day period in 2004.

Lead investigator, and assistant professor at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Georgia, Michael Mink said: "The results of this study suggest the foods advertised on television tend to oversupply nutrients associated with chronic illness (eg, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium) and undersupply nutrients that help protect against illness (eg, fiber, vitamins A, E, and D, calcium, and potassium).”

The researchers wrote that the ubiquity of television in Americans’ lives means that the predominance of fat, sugar and meat in television food advertising could be a contributor to obesity. They noted that that in 2004, expenditure on food-related advertisements​was $11.26 billion, but the US Department of Agriculture spent only two percent of that amount ($268 million) on all nutrition education.

The grains food group was the only one that was represented in a way that would be consistent with Food Pyramid Guidelines, the authors found.

Although they did not examine what would be an appropriate response to bias in food advertising on television, the researchers suggested that health promotion strategies focusing on the food industry, the public media, consumers, and regulation should be considered.

"Educational efforts should identify the specific nutrients that tend to be oversupplied and undersupplied in advertised foods and should specify the single food items that surpass an entire day's worth of sugar and fat servings,”​ they wrote.

“Second, educational efforts should also provide consumers with skills for distinguishing balanced food selections from imbalanced food selections. For example, interactive websites could be developed that test a participant's ability to identify imbalanced food selections from a list of options. This type of game-based approach would likely appeal to youth and adults. Third, the public should be directed to established nutritional guidelines and other credible resources for making healthful food choices."

Source: Journal of the American Dietetic Association

Volume 110, Issue 6 (June 2010)

"Nutritional Imbalance Endorsed by Televised Food Advertisements"

Authors: Michael Mink, Alexandra Evans, Charity Moore, Kristine Calderon, and Shannon Cosgrove.

Related topics: Research, Minerals, Vitamins & premixes

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