School of Nutrition and Food, Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Background: Food and beverage marketing has been implicated in the childhood obesity “pandemic.” Prior studies have established the negative impact of television advertising on children’s dietary intake, yet few have considered the role of online food and beverage marketing, particularly within the Canadian context.
Objective: This study explores children’s engagement in online marketing and investigates the potential impact on their dietary intake.
Methods: Participants were recruited from the Ryerson University Summer Day Camp to participate in a single one-on-one semi-structured interview.
Results: A total of 83 children (age 7 to13 years; mean 9.99 years; 56.3% boys, 43.8% girls) participated in the study. Fewer children thought that there is food, drink, or candy advertising on the internet (67.7%) than on television (98.8%) (p 0.001). Awareness of online marketing increased with age: 7 to 8 year olds (23.67%; 4), 9 to10 years (63.89%; 23), 11 to12 years (86.96%; 20); 13 years (100%; 9). Over one-third of children had visited a website after seeing the address advertised on television (n = 32; 38.55%) or on product package (n = 29; 34.94%).
Conclusions: Branded internet sites, commonly featured on television and product packaging, offer new opportunities for marketers to reach children with messages promoting commercial food and beverage items. These websites are subsequently spread via word-of-mouth through children’s peer networks. The independent impact of web-based food, drink and candy marketing, as well as the synergistic effect of multi-channel product promotion, on children’s dietary intake merits further investigation.
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