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Unhealthy food advertising to South African children through television: a content analysis.

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The extensive advertising of unhealthy foods and beverages has been identified by the World Health Organization as a factor that contributes significantly to childhood obesity. In 2020, one in eight African children were either overweight or obese. The South African government has yet to establish a law that tackles the issue of food advertising to children. This study aimed to determine the extent to which children in South Africa are exposed to unhealthy food advertisements on television, as well as the advertising appeals and promotional strategies used by advertisers of such foods in an effort to appeal to children. Previous South African content analyses have only sampled free-to-air channels whereas this study incorporated one free-to-air channel (SABC 1) and one subscription-based channel (M-Net), thereby including children from different socio-economic backgrounds. This study used a descriptive research design and a mixed methods research approach that was largely qualitative in nature. A total of 41 hours (spread over 14 consecutive days) of television was recorded on M-Net and SABC 1, during popular viewing hours for children. Data was extracted from the recorded television advertisements and analysed using deductive content analysis, to address the research questions about the extent and nature of such advertising. The findings show that 67% of food-related advertisements involved unhealthy foods. Furthermore, fast foods were the most frequently advertised unhealthy food category. Therefore, this study serves as a rationale for the implementation of stronger regulations for food advertising to children in South Africa. This study also revealed that South African children are exposed to more unhealthy foods on free-toair television than on subscription-based television. This indicates that middle-to-low-income households view advertisements for unhealthy foods more regularly than middle-to-high-income households. The findings further indicate that, within unhealthy food advertisements, emotional appeals and jingles or slogans were the most-utilised advertising appeals and promotional strategies.


Master’s Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.