June 2nd, 2010
05:40 PM ET

TV food ads offer bad advice

By Matt Sloane
CNN Medical Producer

Television is not the best place to get nutritional advice, says a new study released today in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. According to the report, if someone were to eat a 2,000-calorie per day diet, based solely on the foods advertised on television, he or she would take in – on average – 25 times the recommended amount of sugar, and 20 times the recommended amount of fat.

Although most people do not claim to base their diets solely on the advertised foods, researchers say they've learned through previous studies that television is a primary source for nutrition information in America.

"The amount spent on nutrition education was $333 million per year," says Michael Mink, Ph.D.; public health program coordinator at Armstrong Atlantic State University, and lead author of the study. "The amount spent on food advertisements ranges from 7.3 to 11.6 billion dollars per year."

In addition to the fat and sugar contents of food, Mink and the other researchers looked at nutrient levels in the foods that were advertised, and found the average product on tv contained above-average amounts of bad nutrients such as saturated fat and cholesterol; and below-average amounts of beneficial nutrients such as fiber, vitamin D, calcium and vitamin E.

"What we really found wasn't just that there was so much sugar and fat," says Mink. "This is sort of a double-whammy: oversupplying the nutrients that create higher risk for illness, and undersupplying the nutrients that protect us from illness."

The lesson for the average consumer, he says?

"There are no disclaimers to say that this item may be difficult to incorporiate into a healthy diet," says Mink. "The viewer is going to have to be very proactive when choosing foods, and be proactive to incorporate other foods that are not on TV in to their diets."

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soundoff (67 Responses)
  1. Jeff

    To the people saying that its not a valid study because "everyone knows not to pay attention to commercials", etc. that's not the point. The point is, what's the overall message that we get about food in our daily lives? That overall message is an unhealthy one. If commercials werent' effective then companies wouldn't spend billions of dollars a year on them, clearly they do influence behavior or else they wouldn't exist.

    Imagine three different societies.

    1) In this society people recieve messages every day telling them to eat junk food, spend more money than they have, act irresponsibly, be selfish, etc.

    2) In this society people recieve messages every day advocating nutritious food choices, responsible habits, compassion for others, support for personal conservation efforts, etc.

    3) In this society people don't recieve messages at all, other than just their converstions with friends/family.

    Now, which society do you think will have the healthier and more responsible people?

    To claim that the messaging would have no impact is just foolishness. Of course the society with the "negative" messaging is going to have more negative qualities.

    You can certianly argue that America is a mix of all three, but America is clearly domianted by #1 and is most like #1.

    June 3, 2010 at 13:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Bunny

    Amen Yellowdog.
    How could the average family possibly take HFCS in moderation when it is in EVERYTHING!
    I am happy to see that many brands are starting to make a version of their product that is HFCS-free. It is splayed right on the label, so look for these products (for starters: Heinz ketchup, Log Cabin maple syrup).
    Buy organic when you can! Support your local farmer's market. You can often score awesome organic fruits and veggies cheaper than at the supermarket. Even easier (and cheaper!) is MAKE EVERYTHING FROM SCRATCH with all-natural products. I made a great lasagna last night with whole wheat pasta, no-salt added plain Hunt's sauce, and all-natural cheeses. It is not a myth that everything tastes better when it is made from scratch! It tastes sooo much fresher.

    June 3, 2010 at 14:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Doug

    The statement:

    " if someone were to eat a 2,000-calorie per day diet, based solely on the foods advertised on television, he or she would take in – on average – 25 times the recommended amount of sugar, and 20 times the recommended amount of fat."

    cannot possibly be correct since current guidelines allow more that 5% of calories from fat and more than 4% of calories from sugar. There must be some mistake.

    June 3, 2010 at 15:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. FoodGirl

    I think food commercials should have the same warnings that drug commercials have. You know at the end when they list all the possible side effects. Sure you can have this giant cheeseburger, but you'll be consuming 3/4 of your daily recommended allowances of....and of course a diet high in xxx may lead to xxx diseases. Maybe that will wake people up to how important the right food choices are.

    June 3, 2010 at 15:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Charles

    Here's another revelation! Expensive cars will make you go broke if you can't afford them! No more car commercials. Another! If you have new tires, you don't need another set! Another! If you don't have ED, you don't need medication to treat it! Another! Feminine hygiene products are not for men! Another...

    June 3, 2010 at 16:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. eman

    Just because TV is the primary source of nutritional information, it doesn't mean that the people are using advertisements to get that information. There are plenty of Fitness shows, News reports, Dr Shows, and PSA's that educate people on nutrition.

    June 3, 2010 at 18:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Lizard

    Thank you for telling us that ads on TV are not a good source of medical and nutritional advice. I await future articles in this series, such as "Mafia loan sharks do not offer the best interest rates", "The Nigerian prince who is emailing you may not actually be a prince", and "Strangers with candy: Should you let your kids ride off with them?"

    June 3, 2010 at 18:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Jo

    I read somewhere that the average child is exposed to 10,000 TV food advertisements a year. I am becoming more and more convinced that TV just isn't good for children because of the commercials. Children can not be "proactive consumers" as Dr Michael Mink suggests.

    June 7, 2010 at 16:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Grocery Store Advertising

    I think food commercials should have the same warnings that drug commercials have.I am happy to see that many brands are starting to make a version of their product that is HFCS-free.

    Grocery Store Advertising

    June 26, 2011 at 16:03 | Report abuse | Reply
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    October 16, 2012 at 04:44 | Report abuse | Reply
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    May 8, 2014 at 01:31 | Report abuse | Reply
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