Identifying food marketing to teenagers: a scoping review

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Abstract Background Teenagers are aggressively targeted by food marketing messages (primarily for unhealthy foods) and susceptible to this messaging due to developmental vulnerabilities and peer-group influence. Yet limited research exists on the exposure and power of food marketing specifically to teenage populations. Research studies often collapse “teenagers” under the umbrella of children or do not recognize the uniqueness of teen-targeted appeals. Child- and teen-targeted marketing strategies are not the same, and this study aims to advance understanding of teen-targeted food marketing by identifying the teen-specific promotion platforms, techniques and indicators detailed in existing literature. Methods A systematic scoping review collected all available literature on food marketing/advertising with the term “teenager” or “adolescent” from nine databases, as well as Google Scholar for grey literature, and a hand search of relevant institutional websites. Included were all peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters, and grey literature in which food marketing to youth was the central topic of the article, of any study type (i.e., original research, reviews, commentaries and reports), and including any part of the 12–17 age range. Results The 122 articles reviewed define the scope of existing literature on food marketing to young people age 17 and under, identifying leading trends in countries studied (United States, 52%), populations identified (children and teens studied concurrently, 36%), outcomes measured (advertising exposure, 54%), study type (cross-sectional, 58%) and methods used (content analysis, 46%). The promotion platforms and techniques used by food marketers to appeal to young people (as reported in the literature) are also identified and classified. Few studies (7%) use indicators to identify teen-targeted food marketing. Conclusions Unique treatments of teen populations are limited in food marketing literature, as is the application of clear indicators to identify and differentiate teen-targeted food marketing from child- or adult-targeted content. Given the need to better measure the presence and power of teen food marketing, this is a significant oversight in existing literature. The indicators identified will help researchers to develop more accurate strategies for researching and monitoring teen-targeted food promotion.
International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2019 Aug 19;16(1):67