UT professor discusses effects of advertisement on health

Ashley Tsao

When it comes to advertising toward youth, schools represent a prime target, and according to Keryn Pasch, UT Kinesiology associate professor and Prevention Research Lab director, the marketing of unhealthy products toward youth can adversely affect their health.

Pasch conducted an outdoor media study of unhealthy food and beverage advertising around 34 middle schools, 13 high schools and nine hospitals in the Austin area in 2010. There were 3,844 advertisements around middle schools and 1,863 around high schools. Students surrounded by these promotions were more likely to prefer unhealthy food to healthy food, because advertisements influence the dietary choices of kids, according to Pasch’s research.

“Kids are constantly inundated with advertisements for unhealthy products,” Pasch said. “Many free apps on smart phones contain pop-up ads that are unavoidable. Coke was losing market shares to Pepsi, so their new campaign on TV and the Internet was to encourage kids to share a soft drink with their friends.”

These free seminars are beneficial to students because they demonstrate the experience of conducting research in an academic setting, Marian Morris, research assistant for St. David’s Center for Health Promotion and Disease, said.

Nursing PhD student Amanda Simonton said the lecture did not necessarily change her view of advertisements because had already thought they were skewed towards at risk or underserved populations.

“It did back up why I felt negatively towards many marketing strategies, because they target impressionable youth in middle and high school,” Simonton said.

Pasch’s data also notes that the marketing of unhealthy products specifically targets the Hispanic population. There were 1,513 food and beverage advertisements around schools that had a Hispanic population of 60 percent or higher. Conversely, only 954 advertisements were found around schools with a Hispanic population of less than 60 percent.

Nursing graduate student Jessica Reynolds said the advertising of unhealthy products to youth represents a call to action for those involved in the healthcare industry.

“Obviously, you can’t regulate everything, because it goes against the first amendment,” Reynolds said. “But at the same time, I want to see health promotion and people with active, healthy lifestyles. At least for me, as a nurse, I feel like it gives us more responsibility as a healthcare provider to educate the public. And hopefully, they will make the right decision.”