If you’re into healthy eating, the food presented in television ads isn’t likely to be very appetizing. It also seems obvious that people who make their food choices based on TV ads are taking on numerous health risks. A study of TV food advertising conducted in 2010 paints a picture about how bad the TV ad diet could actually be.
Influencing food choices
It’s no secret that the standard American diet is lacking in healthy nutrition and overflowing with fat, sugar and salt. Are food manufacturers and their advertising agencies to blame for turning the American diet upside down? If the U.S. obesity rate were used as an example, the science of consumer behavior and the seductive techniques of modern marketing campaigns have been lethally effective.
Discouraging healthy eating
Research published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association concluded that if a people lived on foods promoted in TV advertising, they would consume 25 times the recommended amount of sugar and 20 times the amount of fat, but less than half the dairy, fiber, fruits and vegetables.
To get a handle on how unhealthy the TV ad diet would be, researchers taped 28 days of prime-time television and Saturday-morning programming on the four major broadcast networks. During 84 hours of TV, they identified 775 foods promoted in 3,000 ads. A nutritional software program was used to analyze their nutrition content. Assuming that the theoretical individuals living on the TV ad diet consumed 2,000 calories a day, fats and sugars accounted for the majority of those calories.
Campaign against essential nutrients
According to study leader Michael Mink at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Ga., television not only promotes food high in fat, sugar and salt, it steers consumers away from foods rich in essential nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals. The 775 foods advertised on TV were deficient in 12 essential nutrients, including calcium, potassium, fiber, vitamins D and E, and magnesium.
“Just one advertised food item by itself will provide, on average, three times your daily recommended servings of sugar and two and half times your daily recommended servings of fat,” Mink said. “That means one food item could give you three days’ worth of sugar.”
Nutritional education vs. food industry
Recently the federal government has upped the ante on nutrition education, most notably with Michele Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign against childhood obesity. But to put things in perspective, in 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, charged with making national nutritional recommendations, spent $268 on nutritional education. Just 2 percent of the total was used for food marketing. Meanwhile, food manufacturers spent $11.3 billion on advertising.
Turn off the TV
Avoiding processed food, eating less meat and dairy and eating more fruit, vegetables and whole grains can be a challenge for most people trying to raise a family and make a living. But television, which promotes an unhealthy diet, as well as a lack of physical activity, has created a toxic environment that is eroding America’s health.
Developing healthier eating habits takes much more than tuning out food advertising or simply turning off the TV. But as the TV ad diet study shows, it certainly couldn’t hurt.