January 2015 – The Effectiveness of Food and Beverage Media Literacy

What is media literacy?

The ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and communicate messages in a variety forms. In the literature, media Literacy and advertising literacy are used interchangeably.

Research Question and Methods

Research Question: What is the effectiveness of media literacy programs targeted to children to protect them from the harms of unhealthy food and beverage advertising?

Methods: The research focused on studies that explored advertising on less health food and beverages targeted at children 17 years old or younger. Five secondary and nine primary research articles were reviewed.

Results demonstrated that:

1) There are many unsubstantiated assumptions within the media literacy literature including:

Ÿ Individuals who have lower understanding of media are more susceptible to its effects.

Ÿ Food and beverage media literacy is the same as other forms of media literacy (e.g. understanding violence on TV).

2) There are different ways of measuring the “effectiveness” of media literacy interventions:

Ÿ By measuring ability to identity and understand advertising or, media literacy related outcomes.

Ÿ By measuring behavioural outcomes –this measure is more important if we want to use media literacy to protect children from the influence of advertising.

In every study that was reviewed, media literacy interventions were more successful at improving media literacy related outcomes than in actually changing purchasing behaviours or attitudes.


Media literacy may be useful is helping children understand marketing, but there is little evidence to suggest that media literacy impacts food purchasing behaviors or preferences or that media literacy will protect children from the influence of food and beverage marketing.

Results support the Dietitians of Canada position paper on advertising food and beverages to children, which states that media literacy, “may not be a strong option for attenuating the effects of food advertising directed to children”.

What are the health effects of added sugars in children’s diets?

  • Ÿ Though sugar is not shown to be associated with hyperactivity or behavior problems in children, it is associated with increased energy intake (possibly leading to weight gain) and dental caries when oral care is inadequate.
  • There has been a lot of research in adults that examined the health effects of added sugar but there needs to be more done with children.
  • Within the research, there are discrepancies in how “added sugars” are defined.
  • There needs to be more primary research with a consistent definition of “sugar” that can determine causality.
  • There were several studies that were funded by the Sugar Bureau of the UK but stated that the Sugar Bureau did not provide direction for the research.

What are the health effects of added salts in children’s diets?

  • Ÿ A high salt intake is not associated with hydration status (because children compensate by increasing fluid intake accordingly) but may be associated with blood pressure, sugar sweetened beverage intake, weight status and calcium excretion
  • Ÿ Within the research examined, there are discrepancies in how sodium is measured. Some studies measure sodium by dietary intake and others by ordinary excretion.
  • Ÿ In some areas the research is strong enough to make clear statements, but there is conflicting info we need to be careful.

Thank you to our speaker

Mary Anne Smith is research consultant for Dietitians of Canada. She is a registered dietitian and recently finished a PhD in the field of food policy at the University of Guelph. Her research interests include knowledge translation, food policy, food safety, and food security and she has worked in private practice and as a consulting dietitian for government and non-governmental organizations.

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