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It is worthwhile to briefly consider the topic of food advertising, which is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission. Advertising of nutrient and health claims, unlike food product labeling, can be used freely by manufacturers and retailers provided the message is truthful and not misleading. Advertising of the healthfulness of food products was in use before implementation of the NLEA in 1990 and continued afterward. There is a common perception that manufacturers prefer to use claims for “positive nutrients” (e.g., vitamins and minerals that one should eat more, or products that are useful in weight control and loss) rather than “negative nutrients” (e.g., sodium and saturated fat that one should eat less). The data in Figures 2-8 and 2-9 are from a study on the types of claims made in food advertisements found in magazines from 1977–1997. These data show that the use of “negative” nutrient content claims was generally greater than the use of “positive” nutrient claims (Ippolito and Pappalardo, 2002) in magazine advertisements.

In general, the use of specific nutrient content claims seems to trend upward and then decline. There also appears to be some trade-off among nutrients in the timing of claims—as the peaks of use for different nutrients occur during different years. Specifically, these data (Ippolito and Pappalardo, 2002) show that the use of sodium claims on processed and packaged foods peaked at 13.3 percent in 1991 and subsequently fell to 6 percent in 1997. Sodium content claims were never as commonly used as fat and cholesterol claims, but they were used more often than saturated fat claims in magazine advertising.

This same study also tracked the use of health claims (referred to as

FIGURE 2-8 Percentage of magazine advertisements with “negative” nutrient content claims, 1977–1997.

FIGURE 2-8 Percentage of magazine advertisements with “negative” nutrient content claims, 1977–1997.

SOURCE: Ippolito and Pappalardo, 2002.

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