Snacking on Television: A Content Analysis of Adolescents’ Favorite Shows
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Snacking on Television: A Content Analysis of Adolescents’ Favorite Shows

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    Snacking is a complex behavior that may be influenced by entertainment media. Research suggests that snacking and unhealthy foods are commonly shown in programming that targets young audiences, but shows selected for study have been limited. We conducted a content analysis on shows that were named as favorites by adolescents to characterize portrayals of snacking on popular television.


    A diverse sample of 2,130 adolescents (mean age, 14.3 y) listed 3 favorite television shows in a 2010 school-based survey. Three episodes each of the 25 most popular shows were coded for food-related content, including healthfulness, portion size, screen time use, setting, and social context. We also analyzed the characteristics of characters involved in eating incidents, the show type, and the show rating. We used χ2 tests, binomial tests, and multilevel regression models to compare incidence of snacks versus meals, the characteristics of those involved, and snacking across show characteristics.


    Almost half of food incidents on television shows were snacks. Snacks were significantly more likely than meals to be “mostly unhealthy” (69.3% vs 22.6%, P < .001) and were more likely to include screen time use (25.0% of snacking incidents vs 4.0% of meals, P < .001). Young characters and those coded as being of low socioeconomic status or overweight were overrepresented in snacking incidents. Sitcoms and shows rated for a youth audience were significantly more likely to portray snacking than were shows for adult audiences.


    Media awareness and literacy programs should include foods and snacking behaviors among the issues they address. More healthful portrayals of food and dietary intake in entertainment shows’ content would create a healthier media environment for youth.

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