Food and non-alcoholic beverage advertising

A total of 10,082 ads were identified throughout 508 h of TV programming, and 4376 (43.40%) were F&B ads (Table 1). The average number of ads was 19.8 (SD 15.32) per hour per channel and 8.6 (SD 9.84) for F&B ads. On average, two national channels had more F&B ads during the peak time, (n = 14.74 ads/h, SD 9.01) than the nonpeak time (10.50 ads/h, SD 5.13, p < 0.05). While there was no significant difference between peak time and nonpeak time in the local channel (peak time: n = 3.4 ads/h, SD 2.03; nonpeak time: n = 2.77 ads/h, SD 4.25). There is no statistically significant difference between the peak time (n = 13.11 ads/h, SD 10.65) and nonpeak time (n = 9.06 ads/h, SD 7.16). Notably, as all the F&B ads in the local children’s channel were assessed as unhealthy by all three models, further data analysis were only for F&B ads on the two national channels.

Table 1 Numbers and means of all ads and F&B ads on Beijing TV, according to the ad type and channel

Nutrient profile models of food and non-alcoholic beverages advertised

Out of the 4376 F&B ads, 340 sponsor ads or placement ads were excluded from the data analysis (7.77%). The remaining 4036 F&B ads were classified by three nutrient profile models.

INFORMAS food system

Out of the 4036 F&B ads, 67.24% (n = 2714) of F&B ads were considered uncore, with excessive total fats, saturated fat, sugars, and salt/sodium. Only 7.68% (n = 310) were core F&B ads, and 25.07% of F&B ads were defined as miscellaneous groups, including baby and toddler formula milk (n = 734, 18.19%), tea or coffee (n = 201, 4.98%) and recipe additions (n = 57, 1.41%) (Table 2).

Table 2 Proportion of healthy and unhealthy F&B ads and number of F&B ads in each group on Beijing TV based on the INFORMAS food system, WHO-WPRO and GSCCA

The F&B categories most frequently advertised are savory snacks (e.g., chips, flavored seaweed, shrimp crackers; n = 839, 20.79%), sugar-sweetened drinks (e.g., sweetened tea powders, soft drinks; n = 613, 15.19%), full-cream milk and their alternatives (e.g., whole fat milk, soy; n = 458, 11.35%), sweetbreads, cakes and biscuits (n = 431, 10.68%), and sweet snacks (e.g., sweet jelly; n = 219, 5.43%). All the five F&B groups were defined as uncore products.

As shown in Fig. 1 (a) and (b), the hourly frequency of F&B ads considered uncore was higher than those considered core in the national children’s channel (p < 0.05). For the national general channel, the hourly frequency of core F&B ads was higher than the uncore F&B ads, while there was no significant difference (p > 0.05).

Fig. 1
figure 1

Comparison of the hourly number of F&B ads on TV as per INFORMAS food system: (a) national children’s channel and (b) national general channel. Ads: advertisements; TV: television; F&B ads: food and non-alcoholic beverage advertisements; national children’s channel: China Central Television Channel 14; national general channel: China Central Television Channel 10

WHO-WPRO Nutrient Profile Model

Using the WHO-WPRO Nutrient Profile Model, out of the 4036 F&B ads, 57.76% (n = 2331) of products were considered nonpermitted due to excessive content of total fat, saturated fat, total sugar, artificial sweeteners, salt, and/or energy, while 22.65% (n = 914) were considered permitted. Formula milk (n = 734, 18.19%) and recipe additions (n = 57, 1.41%) were not considered either permitted or nonpermitted.

The most frequently advertised F&B products were nonpermitted savory snacks (e.g., chips, processed seaweed, crisps; n = 1058, 26.21%), permitted milk drinks (e.g., whole fat milk, soy, n = 458, 11.35%), nonpermitted milk drinks (e.g., sweet milk, flavored almond milk; n = 361, 8.94%), cakes, sweet biscuits and pastries (n = 285, 7.06%) and nonpermitted other beverages (e.g., tea, coffee, energy drinks; n = 252, 6.24%).

As shown in Fig. 2 (a) and (b), the hourly frequency of F&B ads considered not permitted was higher than that for F&B ads considered permitted on the national children’s channel (p < 0.05). For the national general channel, the hourly frequency of nonpermitted F&B ads was also higher than permitted F&B ads (p< 0.05).

Fig. 2
figure 2

Comparison of the hourly number of F&B ads on TV as per WHO-WPRO: (a) national children’s channel and (b) national general channel. Ads: advertisements; TV: television; F&B ads: food and non-alcoholic beverage advertisements; national children’s channel: China Central Television Channel 14; national general channel: China Central Television Channel 10

GSCCA

Out of the 4036 F&B ads, 57.76% (n = 2331) were classified as “limited consumption or appropriate consumption (unhealthy)”, while 22.65% (n = 914) were classified as “regular consumption(healthy)” by GSCCA. Some F&B ads that were not included in the model, such as formula milk (n = 734, 18.19%), tea (n = 201, 4.98%), bottled water (n = 31, 0.77%), oil (n = 108, 2.7%) and recipe additions (n = 57, 1.41%).

The F&B groups most frequently advertised were “appropriate consumption of vegetable and fruit products” (e.g., processed seaweed; n = 608, 15.06%), “appropriate consumption of beverages (e.g., sweet almond milk, flavored yogurt; n = 573, 14.20%)”, “limited consumption of wheat and rice products (e.g., shrimp crackers; n = 490, 12.14%)”, “limited consumption of candy and ice cream (n = 327, 8.10%)”, and “regular consumption of milk and milk products (e.g., whole fat milk; n = 313, 7.76%)”. Only “regular consumption of milk and milk products” was considered healthy.

As shown in Fig. 3 (a) and (b), the hourly frequency of F&B ads for products considered unhealthy was higher than that considered healthy in the national children’s channel (< 0.05). It holds true for the national general channel, (< 0.05).

Fig. 3
figure 3

Comparison of the hourly number of F&B ads on TV as per the Guidelines on Snacks for Chinese Children and Adolescents (2018): (a) national children’s channel, and (b) national general channel. Ads: advertisements; TV: television; F&B ads: food and non-alcoholic beverage advertisements; national children’s channel: China Central Television Channel 14; national general channel: China Central Television Channel 10

Persuasive techniques for the marketing of food and non-alcoholic beverage advertisements

As displayed in Table 3, all F&B ads used a brand benefit claim and promotional characters when promoting the products (n = 4036). As many as 25.15% of F&B ads used health claims, including nutrient claims, nutrition function claims and other claims. Figure 4 shows that F&B ads considered unhealthy were more likely to include promotional characters, brand benefit claims, and health claims in their marketing regardless of the nutrient profile model (p < 0.05). Specifically, promotional characters, benefit claims and health claims were present in 65.54%, 68.75%, and 59.68% of F&B ads considered uncore as per INFORMAS, versus 6.18%, 9,85% and 8.85% of F&B ads considered core; They were in 53.34%, 62.63% and 49.35% of nonpermitted ads as per WHO-WPRO versus 23.47%, 23.91% and 22.46% of permitted ads; They were in 52.85%, 61.39% and 46.31% of unhealthy ads as per GSCCA versus 16.96%, 12.96% and 20.08% of healthy F&B. None of the “premium offers” techniques were presented in recorded F&B ads.

Table 3 Proportion of F&B ads on Beijing TV, according to the marketing technique used and type of modela
Fig. 4
figure 4

The proportion of F&B ads (n = 4036) on TV to which children aged 4–14 years are likely to be exposed. Each type of persuasive marketing technique is displayed as per (a) the INFORMAS food system, (b) WHO-WPRO, and (c) GSCCA. An ad could have more than one technique used; < 0.05 (χ2 test for the differences between healthy and unhealthy groups within each marketing technique). Ads: advertisements; TV: television; F&B ads: food and non-alcoholic beverage advertisements

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