Food references and marketing in popular magazines for children and adolescents in New Zealand: A content analysis
Food marketing is recognized as an important factor influencing children's food preferences and consumption. The purpose of this study was to examine the nature and extent of unhealthy food marketing and non-branded food references in magazines targeted at and popular among children and adolescents 10-17 years old in New Zealand. A content analysis was conducted of all food references (branded and non-branded) found in the five magazines with the highest readership among 10-17 year olds, and the three magazines (of which two were already included among the five most popular magazines) targeted to 10-17 year olds. For each of the six magazines, one issue per month (n = 72 issues in total) over a one-year period (December 2012-January 2014) was included. All foods referenced were classified into healthy/unhealthy according to the food-based Ministry of Health classification system. Branded food references (30% of total) were more frequent for unhealthy (43%) compared to healthy (25%) foods. Magazines specifically targeted to children and adolescents contained a significantly higher proportion of unhealthy branded food references (n = 51/71, 72%) compared to the most popular magazines among children and adolescents (n = 133/317, 42%), of which most were targeted to women. 'Snack items' such as chocolates and ice creams were marketed most frequently (n = 104; 36%), while 'vegetables and fruits' were marketed the least frequently (n = 9; 3%). Direct advertisements accounted for 27% of branded food references and 25% of those featured health or nutrition claims. Both branded and non-branded food references were common within magazines targeted at and popular among children and adolescents, and skewed toward unhealthy foods. This raises concerns about the effectiveness of self-regulation in marketing and emphasizes that government regulations are needed in order to curb children's current potential high exposures to unhealthy food marketing. In addition, magazine editors could take socially responsible editorial positions in regard to healthy eating.