The extent, nature, and nutritional quality of foods advertised to children in Lebanon: the first study to use the WHO nutrient profile model for the Eastern Mediterranean Region
Objective: Exposure to food marketing may influence children’s food preferences and consumption patterns and may increase the risk of childhood obesity. The WHO Office for the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR) has recently released a regional nutrient profile model (WHO EMR) for the purpose of regulating the marketing of food and beverages to children. This study aimed at 1) analyzing the frequency and types of food and drink advertisements during children’s viewing time in Lebanon; 2) examining the nutritional content of the advertised food products in reference to the nutrient thresholds specified by the WHO EMR model; and 3) assessing the proportion of food advertisements that included health messages.
Design: This study consisted of a cross-sectional content analysis of food advertisements on local TV channels, during children’s viewing time. Setting: Three local Lebanese channels with the highest viewership among 4- to 14-year-olds were selected. Recorded broadcasts (September 2016 through January 2017) were analyzed between 3 pm and 10 pm on weekdays and between 8 am and 10 pm on weekend days.
Results: Approximately 31% of advertisements were for foods or drinks. The proportion of food advertisements was the highest during children’s programs (43%) compared to general viewing (32%) and parental guidance (29%) programs. Approximately 8 out of 10 food advertisements were for products that did not meet the standards of the WHO EMR model. Of concern was the heavy advertisement of alcoholic beverages during programs for general audiences. The majority of the advertisements that comprised a health claim were for foods that did not meet the WHO EMR’s nutritional standards (79%).
Conclusions: The findings of this study, which is the first to utilize the new WHO EMR profile model, should be viewed as a foundation for the development of food marketing policies aimed at reducing children’s exposure to TV food advertisements in Lebanon, a country that harbors a high burden of childhood obesity.
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