PHRC Phase 1 (2005-2011) projects – Projects related to diet and obesity

B2-06: How do young people engage with food branding?

Principal investigator

Martine Stead, Stirling


The prevalence of obesity in children and young people (CYP) continues to increase, with 30% of boys and 26% of girls under 11 years overweight in 2003. In line with the PSA target on childhood obesity, halting the upward trend is the prime objective of Choosing Health, with the Healthy Schools Programme placing particular emphasis on improving diet.

Food marketing is recognised to be an important influence on children’s diet, particularly through the growing dominance of youth-oriented brands like Coca Cola and McDonalds. Branding is a powerful marketing tool for the adolescent market. It supports young people’s efforts to use the symbolism embedded in consumer products to create, foster and develop their self-identity, and low-income teenagers appear to be particularly brand-loyal. However, very little is known about young people’s relationship to food brands and its influence on their food choices.

Aims, methods and contribution

This project fills this gap. It investigates (i) how young people engage with food branding, particularly with branded foods high in fat, sugar and salt, and (ii) potential gender and socioeconomic differences in its influence on food preferences, including young people’s independent food purchases. Three phases of work were conducted: qualitative focus groups, questionnaire development and piloting, and a cross-sectional survey of 1200 school pupils, selected from a random sample of comprehensive schools stratified by LEA.

The project will equip the DH with a better understanding of how food branding works. This understanding is important for informing future food marketing regulation (eg for branded school vending machines, sports sponsorship and brand-stretching, as well as on measures to ‘disrupt’ branding, such as prominent labelling of high fat or salt products). It could also provide a baseline study to monitor the impact of regulatory policies relating to food marketing on young people.

January 2007 - December 2008 (24 months)