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Reading Food Ads Promotes Unhealthy Diet

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
fast food ads and diet

Reading food ads that promote unhealthy diets are now found to affect the way people eat. The new study, from Newcastle University researchers, analyzed the type of food ads found in UK magazines, finding that foods promoted were laden with sugar and salt in direct opposition to the health message delivered in the articles.

Lead study author, Dr Jean Adams, lecturer in public health at Newcastle University says, "Nearly every magazine contains advice on a healthier lifestyle, yet we found the food adverts were for products high in sugar and salt and low in fibre such as ready meals, sauces and confectionary", adding "Obviously, it's up to each of us to decide what we eat but if we're constantly bombarded with images of unhealthy food every time we pick up a magazine then we're going to be swayed in what we choose."

The result may lead to temptations to eat a less healthy diet after perusing food advertisements in the magazines.

The researchers looked at thirty popular magazines in November 2007, collecting data on the nutritional content of the foods found in the advertisements. Some of the magazines chosen for the study included Bella, Best, Chat, Closer, Grazia, Heat, Hello!, Inside Soap, Kerrang!, Love It, New, Now, Nuts, OK!, People's Friend, Pick Me Up, Radio Times, Reveal, Take a Break, That's Life!, Total TV guide, TV choice, TV Easy, TV Quick, TV Times, What's on TV, Woman, Woman's Own, Woman's Weekly, and Zoo.

The study authors discovered that the foods advertised were higher in sugar and salt, and lower in fibre than recommended guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO).

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The study, published in the European Journal of Public Health, showed that 25.5% of the meals were pre-prepared and included sauces high in sugar and salt. Approximately one-fourth of the ads included foods such as ice cream, full sugar soft drinks and chocolate bars. Only 1.8% of the magazine ads promoted fruits and vegetables.

Interestingly, the worst culprits were magazines read primarily by women and people with lower socioeconomic status, while "high-end" magazines were the only publications that advertised fruits and vegetables in their food ads.

Dr. Adams says, "Health bodies and the government are trying to encourage all of us to eat a healthier diet, yet we found that many of the magazines, especially those targeting lower-income families are full of adverts promoting food that is largely unhealthy."

The authors concluded that magazine ads might be harming, rather than helping us stay healthy and on track, especially given the current social climate. "Families are facing so many social pressures that it's a constant battle to stay on the right track when choosing and preparing meals and these adverts are doing little to help."

Choose your reading material carefully. Don't be duped by magazine ads that promote unhealthy diets.

European Journal of Public Health. doi:10.1093/eurpub/ckn132