36119 Families, Focus Groups, and Food Marketing: A Mixed Methods Study on Media Literacy

Rachel Powell, PhD, MPH, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA

Theoretical Background and research questions/hypothesis: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the prevalence of children who are obese has tripled during the past three decades. While lack of physical activity and unhealthy eating have been the primary focus of public health research, practice, and policies, media has a significant influence on the health status of children today. Food and beverage advertisers spend between $10 and $15 billion dollars per year targeting youth alone. Marketing of unhealthy food products is disproportionately targeted at ethnic minority children. The purpose of this dissertation study is to examine if a family-based media literacy intervention can increase media literacy knowledge and combat the persuasive nature of unhealthy food advertisements. Research questions: 1. How did a media literacy educational intervention for parents and their children influence their levels of media literacy knowledge? 2. How did a media literacy educational intervention lead to changes in parents’ and children’s intentions to eat unhealthy and healthy food? 3. How did the media literacy educational intervention affect the parents’ and children’s attitudes toward the intervention in general and toward food marketing in particular?

Methods: Parents (n=12) and their children (n=15) were recruited from two local Boys and Girls clubs. They participated in an educational, intervention workshop, which had a curriculum based on Integrated Theoretical Framework of Media Literacy that included the Core Concepts of Media Literacy. The parents completed a pretest before the workshop and a posttest after the workshop concluded. Volunteers from the workshop signed up to participate in focus groups. There were two focus groups with parents (n=5) and two focus groups with children (n=6). 

Results: The quantitative results provided evidence that there were positive changes in parents’ media literacy knowledge after the workshop (RQ1). Through the focus groups, it was found that children learned about the purpose of advertisements and how to be more critical of unhealthy food advertisements. Also, the focus group data revealed that there were positive changes for both parents and children in their intentions and behaviors in eating healthy (RQ2). The attitudes of both parents and children towards media and food marketing changed as they learned more about the true intent of advertisements and more critical analysis skills (RQ3). 

Conclusions: All participants, parents and children, increased their media literacy knowledge and skill sets, which will make them a more critical media consumer. 

Implications for research and/or practice: Media literacy is a significant part of the extensive health literacy umbrella. As society evolves, people are becoming more and more dependent on media as a primary source for all types of information, including health information. Media literacy can be used as an effective and practical health communication strategy, offering the ability to serve as both a prevention and intervention tool. Obesity is one of the largest public health epidemics of today’s society and it is important to use diverse and innovative interventions that can help educate and empower children to be more critical consumers and lead to healthier lifestyles.