A thematic content analysis of children's food advertising

Michele Roberts and Simone Pettigrew
University of Western Australia


Over 25% of Australian children are obese or overweight (Royal Australian College of Physicians 2004). While it is clear that child obesity is caused by an imbalance of energy, it is uncertain what has caused this imbalance to reach epidemic proportions. Many factors are explored in the literature, such as increased snacking, reduced physical activity and food advertising. The latter remains one of the most intensely debated and least understood potential causes of child obesity and as such was selected as the focus of this study. The messages embedded in food advertisements targeted at children were content analysed for the purpose of providing practitioners with insight into the possible cumulative effects of advertising on children. It is important for advertisers to be aware of the potential for their messages to undermine healthy eating behaviours and as a result raise concerns among parents and policy makers. Such research is timely as the advertising industry is under increasing pressure to develop practices less likely to undermine healthy eating and more likely to encourage a balanced diet (McDonald 2003).