Macrotextual analysis of nutrition messages from selected broadcasts on Canadian prime time television
Wadsworth, Laurie Ann
This study was designed to identify and describe major recurrent themes in food related messages and body image attitudes (BIA) broadcast on Canadian network prime time television commercials and fictional programs. Content and semiotic analyses were combined to examine textual data from the purposive sample of 10 top-rated programs. Six hours of broadcasts yielded 821 incidents (2.28/min). Foods shown were most often from the Other Foods category followed by Grain Products, Meat and Alternatives, Vegetables and Fruit, and Milk Products. Food incidents tended towards higher fat choices, made little use of higher fibre foods or green and deep yellow vegetables and fruit, and often contained alcohol or caffeine. Information on portion size and frequency of food choice was lacking. Thematic analysis showed that food portrayals held strong social and psychological meanings such as caring, self-identity and emotional support. In health terms, food was related to mortality while morbidity of chronic disease was absent. BIA portrayals consistently dealt negatively with larger body sizes. Fewer people outside a healthy body weight range were shown in this sample than actually occurs. Ads used persuasion techniques to draw attention, build trust, stimulate desire, and stress urgency or desired action. The findings presented a viewer paradox--energy dense foods were stressed, yet possible adverse health effects were absent. The lack of a total diet approach of food portrayals promoted the "good/bad" food dichotomy. This, and the negative view of larger body types, could work against current health promotion efforts. These findings carry many implications for public health nutrition programs.