Obesity, Diet, and Activity

Research shows that food and beverage product placements in movies may be a potent source of advertising to children.

Food and beverage advertising is frequently aired during children’s television programming and much of the foods being advertised are of poor quality.  Now, an old tool in the advertiser’s arsenal - product placement – is getting new attention.  Product placement is the paid presence of branded products in movies and is proving to be a potent source of advertising to children.  At a time when children and adolescents are already not getting enough of the daily recommended nutrients, product placement provides yet another medium to promote energy-dense, nutrient poor foods.

As reported in the February 8th, 2010 online edition of Pediatrics, we studied the prevalence of product placement of foods, beverages and restaurant brands in 200 of the top grossing movies between 1995 to 2005.

We found four key points:

1) The majority of the brand placements were for energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods or product lines. 

2)  Sugar-sweetened beverages, largely soda, accounted for the largest proportion of all of the food product brand placements; 1 in 4 brand appearances was a sugar-sweetened beverage.

3)  A surprising number of product-placements for low quality food and beverages were found in movies targeted specifically to older children and teenagers. One third of G-rated movies, more than half (58.5%) of PG-rated movies, and almost three quarters (73.2%) of PG-13–rated movies had brand appearances.

4) Six companies accounted for almost half of all brand placements - PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Nestle USA, McDonald's, Dr. Pepper/Snapple Group and Burger King.

Advertising is one of the largest businesses in the world.  Advertising in movie production alone accounts for $28 billion in revenues, $7 billion of which are spent on product placement.  This study demonstrates the need for more research on how product placement in movies affects the food and beverage choices of children and adolescents.  At a time in their development where children and adolescents are gaining independence in food choices and are also very susceptible to outside influences, we have to carefully examine what factors may be influencing lifelong choices and habits around food.

What can parents do?

  • Limit “screen-time” (e.g. TV, movies, internet, video games) to less than 2 hours a day.  This will also help limit advertising exposure. 
  • Know what your children are exposed to through media.  Watch TV and movies with your children.  The average 8 year old begins watching the majority of programming by themselves.
  • Talk with your children about what they are viewing.  Watching TV and movies with your children presents an educational opportunity.  Help kids understand that the main goal of advertising and product placement is to make them buy things—often things they don't need.

Authors  Lisa A. Sutherland, Ph.D., Todd MacKenzie, Ph.D., Lisa A. Purvis, M.S., M.B.A., & Madeline Dalton, Ph.D.