A conceptual classification of parents’ attributions of the role of food advertising in children’s diets
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Background: High levels of child obesity are triggering growing concerns about the prevalence and effects of food advertising targeted at children. Efforts to address this advertising are confounded by the expanding repertoire of media and promotional techniques used to reach and attract children. The present study explored parents’ views on food marketing and the strategies parents employ when attempting to ameliorate its effects. As part of an online survey of Australian parents’ attitudes towards a range of food advertisements, respondents were invited to provide additional comment in an open-ended question. The question was optional and asked “Are there any other comments you would like to make?”. One in five of the survey respondents (18%; n = 235) elected to answer this question by discussing their views on food advertising and children’s diets. The responses were imported into NVivo10 for coding and analysis. A grounded approach was used to draw meaning from the data and develop a proposed conceptual classification of parents’ attributions relating to food advertising and its consequences.Results: The majority of responses related to the negative perceived effects of unhealthy food advertising on children’s diets, with few respondents considering such advertisements to be innocuous. The responses were classified into four conceptual categories reflecting differing attitudes to advertising (negative to neutral) and varying levels of locus of control (low to high). The typical characteristics of parents allocated to the four categories exhibited variation according to weight status, television viewing habits, education level, and family size. The largest number of responses was coded to the category characterized by a negative attitude toward food advertising and a low locus of control. Parents in this category were more likely than others to be overweight/obese and heavy television viewers. Parents in the negative attitude to advertising and high locus of control category nominated a variety of parenting practices that could form the basis of parent education interventions. Conclusions: The results suggest that many Australian parents may feel disempowered in the face of high levels of advertising for unhealthy foods. The current voluntary regulatory code appears to be inadequate in scope and coverage to address this situation.
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