Fast Food Advertising Research Paper
Fast food is a popular, inexpensive method of fulfilling one’s basic needs. Although there are evident variations in the frequency consumers in the United States eat fast food, estimates suggest that nearly 1/3rd of the population eats fast food 4-6 times per week (“How Often Do You Eat Fast Food,” 2017). While fast food establishments offer a variety of food related items, the overall healthiness of these items tend to vary. While individuals may consume some healthy foods when purchasing fast food, previous research has demonstrated that healthy foods often fail to sell in fast food establishments. This finding suggests that individuals frequenting fast food establishments are more likely to consume unhealthy menu items. However, there are notable variations in the level of health-conscious behaviors and lifestyle choices individuals make in the United States. With approximately 2/3rds of the population meeting the criteria to be defined as overweight or obese, the United States Department of Health and Human Services has concluded that consumers are not following federal guidelines on how to live a healthy lifestyle (“Facts & Statistics,” 2017). Yet, further complicating the lifestyle choices in the United States is that consumers are using more technology than ever before. Even though previous research has established that the frequency children and adolescents consume fast food is influenced by their exposure to fast food advertisements, this finding has not been explored in adults. In exploring the relationship between fast food consumption, advertising, and health conscious behaviors, this research will seek to determine whether fast food advertising influences the frequency in which they consume fast food.
Fast food remains one of the fastest growing industries in the United States. According to estimates from the Pew Research Center, 52% of Americans consume fast food at least once per week (“How Often Do You Eat Fast Food,” 2017). However, this research further demonstrated that approximately 32% of people consume fast food 4-6 times per week. Although fast food is a broad term used to describe inexpensive food that is often sold at a drive thru or physical location, many fast food establishments are known for offering consumers a wide degree of unhealthy menu options (Peterson and Taylor, 2017). While there are evident variations in the type of menu items fast food establishments offer consumers, the convenience, ease, and inexpensive nature of fast food are believed to play a mitigating role in influencing the quantity of fast food consumers in the United States consume. Yet, the dominant norms present in American culture are further believed to play a role in influencing the frequency in which people eat fast food. Contrasting previous generations, Americans in the present tend to work full-time, be either from a dual income family or from a family of a single parent, exhibit less financial stability, higher levels of stress, and are more likely to report feeling both rushed and exhausted (Long, 2018; “Raising Kids and Running a Household,” 2015; Rosen, 2014). For many Americans suffering from the everyday stressors present in their life, fast food offers an easy, convenient, and inexpensive way of meeting their basic needs (Drewnowski, 2010). However, fast food companies are aware of the changing norms present in the United States. As a result, many fast food companies rely heavily on advertisements as a means of increasing the frequency consumers purchase food from their establishments (“Fast Food Facts in Brief,” 2013; Sifferlin, 2013). In exploring the relationship between fast food advertising and consumer purchasing habits, this research seeks to identify the role fast food advertisements plays in influencing the frequency individuals consume fast food.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study is to establish the relationship between fast food advertising and consumer purchasing habits. In exploring this relationship, this study seeks to determine if fast food advertising is adversely affecting the health of the population. According to research conducted by Zeinab, Gholamrez, and Mehdi (2017) individuals who consume fast food more frequently are less likely to engage in health-conscious behaviors. While previous research has established that children and adolescents who view more fast food advertisements are more likely to consume fast food more frequently, it is unknown if these findings are generalizable to adults (Clark, 2016). Despite this finding, consumers in the United States are spending more time using technology than ever before (Howard, 2016). This finding suggests that if fast food advertisement influence consumer-purchasing habits, adults who use more technology may be more likely to consume fast food more frequently. However, the increased use of technology contrasts guidelines from the Center from Disease Control and Prevention on how to live a healthy lifestyle (“Fast Facts,” 2017). In exploring the relationship between fast food advertisements and consumer purchasing habits, this research is seeking to determine what factors influence the frequency that adults eat fast food.
The following research questions have been derived for this study:
- Do consumers who view more fast food advertisements consume fast food more frequently?
- What factors influence the likelihood adults will purchase fast food?
- What is the relationship between fast food consumption and health conscious behaviors?
- Do individuals who consume more frequently report suffering from more health problems (including being overweight and/or obese)?
The following hypotheses have been identified for this study:
- Ho.1. Consumers who view more fast food advertisements will eat at fast food establishments more frequently.
- Ho.2. Consumers who report being financially unstable or from a low socio-economic status will consume fast food more frequently than consumers from a mid to high socio-economic status.
- Ho.3. Consumers with children will eat more fast food than single consumers.
- Ho.4 Consumers who eat fast food more frequently will report fewer health conscious behaviors.
- more fast food will be more likely to be overweight or obese.
This research will rely on mixed methods in the form of a questionnaire, administered to approximately 100 participants (N=100). The questionnaire will be administered to participants through an online survey platform. The decision to recruit participants through this method is based on the growing amount of time adults spend using technology (Howard, 2016).
Prior to beginning the study, the researcher will compose a questionnaire. The first portion of the questionnaire will obtain basic demographic information about the consumer. The second part of the questionnaire will ask participants about health-conscious behaviors. In obtaining this information, the researcher will be able to determine if the participant is adhering to national recommendations on how to live a healthy lifestyle (“Fast Facts,” 2017).
The final part of the research will ask participants to report the frequency in which they consume fast food. This section will further seek to determine how frequently consumers view fast food advertisements (on both television and social media websites). Consumers will be then asked to rate (likert scale) the likelihood that they will purchase and consume fast food after viewing these advertisements.
After the researcher has finished drafting the questionnaire, it will be posted on an online survey platform. Although the researcher is attempting to attract a sample of 100 participants, the researcher will formally close out the study after 110 people have completed the study. The purpose of having ten extra people complete this study is to ensure that all participants completed the study in its entirety. Participants that failed to complete the study in its entirety will automatically be disqualified from this research.
Once the researcher obtains 110 completed surveys, the researcher will begin entering the information into SPSS. After the researcher finishes coding qualitative variables, the researcher will run central tendencies on the findings. This will allow the researcher to determine the sample’s characteristics, the frequency in which they consume fast food, and the influence they believe fast food advertising has on their purchasing habits. Furthermore, this process will allow the researcher to explore the role socio-economic status, having children and health conscious behaviors have on the likelihood consumer eat fast foods. The researcher will then use a chi-squared analysis in order to determine the likelihood different variables are positively or negatively correlated with each other. Conclusions will then be formed based on the findings present in this study. Recommendations will then be made as to how future studies can expand on the findings present in this research.
The purpose of this section is to investigate the relationship between American culture, fast food consumption, fast food advertising and the health of the population. In investigating these variables, this section will rely on governmental sources and previous literary findings. The findings present in this review will then be discussed in order to isolate gaps in existing research.
The United States is known for having a large, diversified population. Despite the elevated level of diversity, certain societal norms have become a dominant feature in American culture. In expanding on this premise, the Pew Research Center, found that many Americans often feel rushed. However, this research further indicated that Americans are carrying more responsibilities than previous generations (“Raising Kids and Running a Household,” 2015). Yet, this finding may be in part attributed to the rise of dual income families. Contrasting previous generations, many families had one parent (often the male) working outside of the home, while the other performed domestic tasks and cared for the children. However, in the present, more people than ever before rely on a dual income family to survive (see chart 1.1.). While there are notable economic benefits of having two people work outside the home, the need to balance life’s everyday tasks can become a challenge. Rosen (2014) further concurs in acknowledging that the majority of Americans feel exhausted, overworked, and stressed out. While the Pew Research Center’s findings are primarily generalizable to married individuals (or individuals living together as a family unit), these stressors are believed to be amplified in single-parent families (“Single Parenting and Today’s Family,” 2017). From this perspective, the need for families (both single and dual income homes) to manage the everyday responsibilities of life has led people throughout the country to experience an overwhelming sense of stress as they try to balance their conflicting responsibilities.
Dominant Trends in American Society
Although there has been an increased prevalence of dual income families and families led by single-parents over the past few decades, many Americans are economically vulnerable. Long (2018) further concurs in citing a recent report from the Federal Reserve, demonstrating that “forty percent of American adults don’t have enough savings to cover a $400 emergency expense such as an unexpected medical bill, car problem or home report,” (para. 4). However, this report further demonstrated that “forty-three percent of households can’t afford the basics to live, meaning they aren’t earning enough to cover the combined cost of housing, food, child care, healthcare, transportation and a cell phone” (para. 5). In conjunction, these findings suggest that Americans living in the present are more financially unstable than previous generations. Yet, in exploring factors leading to the increased level of financial instability, Long found that stagnant wages, inflation, the growing cost of healthcare, and underemployment were all factors leading to economic instability in the United States.
The growing level of financial instability in the United States affects nearly every aspect of the peoples’ lives. Long (2018) further concurs in finding that individuals who were financially unstable were significantly more likely to put off medical care. Yet, Drewnowski (2010) found that individuals who are financially unstable are significantly more likely to consume unhealthy food. In contrast, Carman and Zamarro (2016) found Americans with higher levels of financial security were more likely to consume healthy foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc.). However, Drewnowski’s study further demonstrated that the increased cost of healthy foods is a deterring factor, preventing many financially unstable individuals from being able to purchase these items. These factors suggest that in conjunction, the quality of food individuals consume and overall health of the population is heavily contingent financial stability. Despite these findings, the growing level of financial instability present in the United States may play a role in influencing the overall health of the population.
The inability to maintain a healthy lifestyle has emerged as one of the biggest problems facing the nation. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases further concurs in finding that “more than 2 in 3 Americans are considered overweight or obese” (“Overweight & Obesity Statistics,” 2017, para. 8). In exploring factors influencing the growing prevalence of the population suffering from illnesses related to being overweight or obese, the United States Department of Health and Human Services found that many adults fail to follow healthy lifestyle patterns (see chart 1.2.). In expanding on this premise, the United States Department of Health and Human Services found that empty calories (foods and beverages with no nutritional benefits) compose 40% of the average American’s diet (“Facts & Statistics,” 2017). However, this research further demonstrated that Americans fail to eat sufficient fruits and vegetables, and consume too much sodium and sugar. In addition to these findings, this research demonstrated that “only on in three adults receive the recommended amount of physical activity each week” (para. 4). In conjunction, these findings suggest that people throughout the United States are failing to engage in health-conscious behaviors.
The amount of time people spend using technology is further believed to be a deterrent to leading a healthy lifestyle. Although estimates vary, Howard (2016) found that adults living in the United States spend ten hours and twenty-nine minutes per day (on average) in front of a screen. While children a little less technology than adults, the United States Department of Health and Human Services found that “children now spend more than seven and a half hours a day in front of screens (TV, videogames, computers, etc.)” (“Facts & Statistics,” 2017, para. 5). In conjunction, these findings suggest that technology is the most popular form of entertainment in the United States. However, in using large quantities of technology, more Americans are sitting stagnant and failing to follow health conscious behaviors outlined by the Center For Disease Control and Prevention. In failing to lead a healthy lifestyle (exercise, consume healthy foods, etc.) and using large quantities of technology, more Americans meet the criteria to be defined as overweight or obese than ever before.
Fast Food in the United States
Fast food remains one of the fastest growing industries in the United States (Ficknescher, 2017). According to current estimates, “the fast food industry in the United States is worth approximately $198.9 billion U.S. dollars” (“Fast food industry- Statistics & Facts,” 2017, para. 1). However, by 2020, estimates suggest that the fast food industry in the United States will be worth more than $223 billion. Although there are notable variations in the type of foods and beverages served by fast food establishments, fast food is characterized by being inexpensive food that is often served in a physical location or drive thru (Peterson and Taylor, 2017). Despite the different variations of fast food establishments in the United States, the overall success of fast food chains tends to vary (see chart 1.3.).
While the type of items fast food establishments sell tend to vary, consuming fast food has become increasingly popular. In exploring the frequency in which consumers eat fast food, estimates suggest that 31.89% of people in the United States eat fast food 1-3 times per week (“How Often Do You Eat Fast Food,” 2017). However, an additional 31.5% of people reported eating fast food less than one time per week (see chart 1.4.). In conjunction, these statistics demonstrate a great level of variability in terms of how frequently individuals eat fast food. Despite this level of variability, 52.68% of all consumers eat fast food at least once per week.
Fast food establishments rely heavily on advertising to increase consumer purchasing habits (Story and French, 2004) Although estimates vary, The Food Marketing Organization (2017) found that in 2010, fast food establishments spent $4.2 billion on advertisements targeting young children. In 2012, the Yale Rudd Center for Food & Obesity determined that fast food establishments spent $4.6 billion on advertisements (“Fast Food Facts in Brief,” 2013). While the Yale Rudd Center for Food & Obesity demonstrated that the quality of fast food advertisements (in terms of advertising healthy foods) increased, the report argues that more work needs to be done to promote healthy choices in fast food advertisements.
Although the frequency of fast food advertisements may vary, Story and French (2004) demonstrated that fast food establishment are frequently targeting younger consumers. According to Story and French, the premise in targeting younger consumers is based on the influence they have over adult spending patterns. As a result, children and adolescents play a mitigating role in influencing how adults spend their disposable income. Yet, Sifferlin (2013) further argues that fast food advertisements are becoming increasingly popular on social media. According to Sifferlin, the need to market fast food establishments on social media is based on the premise that both children and adults are watching less television than ever before. As a result of this finding, marketing professionals have focused heavily on social media to target children and adolescent consumers.
Effects of Advertisements on Consumers
Even though marketing fast food to children has been shown to be a lucrative industry, the ethicality of this industry has been heavily debated. In the United States, fast food establishments are legally allowed to use advertisements directly to children. As a result, many marketing professionals focus on children as their target market. In focusing on children, marketing professionals have determined that children have some control over their parent’s disposable income (Story and French, 2004). While marketing to children remains a commonality in the United States, this practice has been banned in the United Kingdom. In expanding on this ban, Clark (2016) acknowledges that “research shows advertising greatly influences the food children choose to eat, and with one third of children overweight or obese by their 11th birthday, we need to protect them from relentless junk food marketing in all walks of life” (para. 4). However, in exploring how advertising fast food establishments affects children, Chou (2008) found that children who observe more advertisements are more likely to pressure their parents to purchase them fast food. As a result, children are being given more discretion as to the quality of food they consume. Yet, Chou further found this to be problematic as the results of his study indicated that banning fast food advertisements geared towards children in the United States “would reduce the number of over-weight children age 3-11 in a fixed population by 18 percent and would reduce the number of overweight adolescents age 12-18 by 14 percent” (p. 599).
This review demonstrated that more Americans are engaging in unhealthy behaviors than ever before. Although the Center for Disease Control and Prevention provides individuals with recommendations as to how to live a healthy life, many consumers throughout the United States are not adhering to these guidelines (“Facts & Statistics,” 2017). Yet, the decision not to follow these guidelines have led obesity rates to flourish throughout the nation. With two in three people meeting the criteria to be defined as overweight or obese, the health of the population remains at risk (“Overweight & Obesity Statistics,” 2017). In exploring factors that increase this risk, the amount of fast food individuals eat may play a mitigating role in influencing the population’s health. However, with consumers spending more time using technology, the amount of fast food related advertising is believed to play a viable role in influencing the consumer’s eating habits (Siffren, 2013; Story and French, 2004). Despite this belief, few studies have explored the relationship between fast food advertising and consumer-purchasing habits. Although previous studies have indicated that children and adolescents are more likely to consume fast food after watching advertisements, this relationship has not been explored in adults. In exploring the relationship between fast food advertising and adult consumption of fast food, this research will determine whether advertisements play a role in influencing the frequency individuals purchase fast food. However, this research will also explore the role socio-economic status, health conscious behaviors, and raising children have on consumer eating habits. The decision to include these variables into the research is based on previous findings present in the literature review demonstrating that having children, a low socio-economic status, and engaging in an unhealthy lifestyle all increase junk food consumption in adults. While the type of junk food adults consume may vary, the inclusion of these variables in the research will allow the researcher to determine what factors increase the frequency in which consumers purchase fast food and how these choices affect the health of the population.
The researcher anticipates that the results of this study will demonstrate that individuals who watch more advertisements for fast food establishments will consume more fast food. Although previous studies have confirmed this finding in children and adolescents, no study to date has explored this topic in adults (Story and French, 2004). However, contrasting children and adolescents, adults have more purchasing power. As a result, adults may be more inclined to purchase fast food after viewing fast food advertisements.
While the researcher anticipates that adults will purchase more fast food after viewing fast food advertisements, the researcher also anticipates that consumers who engage in an unhealthy lifestyle will be more likely to consume fast food more frequently. This anticipated finding is in part attributed to previous research demonstrating that stress increases the likelihood individuals will consume junk food (Morales and Wolf, 2006). Furthermore, consumers who lead an unhealthy lifestyle are believed to be less likely to engage in prosocial forms of stress reduction (such as exercise, mediating, etc.). As a result, the researcher anticipates that individuals who lead unhealthy lifestyles will be more likely to consume fast foods as a means of coping with their stressors. Furthermore, the researcher anticipates that individuals who lead health conscious lifestyles will be less likely to consume more fast food, even when their stress levels are elevated. This belief is in part attributed to a recent Nielsen report demonstrating that health conscious individuals tend to engage in healthy eating habits (“We Are What We Eat,” 2015). Divine (2005) provides a similar assessment in finding that health conscious consumers are more likely to engage in physical activity as a means of managing their stressors. In conjunction with Morales and Wolf’s findings, Divine’s research suggests that consumers who are concerned about making health conscious choices will be less likely to select unhealthy foods as a method of combating their stress.
The researcher further anticipates that consumers with a low socio-economic status will be more likely to report eating fast food more frequently. This anticipated finding is based on finding from Peachey and Monsivals (2016) demonstrating that socio-economic status influences the quantity of health food individuals can consume. Furthermore, this study demonstrated that individuals with a higher socio-economic status were more likely to consume healthy foods more frequently than those with a lower socio-economic status. Yet, in expanding on this finding, it is feasible that consumers with a high socio-economic status may be able to afford to eat out at more expensive restaurants. As a result, these consumers are anticipated to eat less fast food than individuals with a low socio-economic status.
The researcher also anticipates that consumers with children will eat more fast food than consumers without children. This belief is based on Story and French’s (2004) findings demonstrating that marketing fast food advertisements to children is an effective method of increasing the quantity of fast food children and adolescents consume. However, Dave et. al. (2012) further found that adults may exhibit certain attitudes towards fast food that increase their consumer purchasing habits. While adults and children/adolescents are different populations, adults may pass their attitudes and beliefs to their children. As a result of these attitudes and beliefs, children and adolescents who consume more fast food after viewing advertisements may have parents with similar attitudes towards fast food consumption. Yet, in exploring this premise from a different perspective, Story and French found that children and adolescents have a large degree of control over adult consumer-purchasing habits. In relating Story and French’s finding to this research, the researcher anticipates that adults with children will be less likely to purchase them fast food for breakfast, lunch or dinner and then purchase themselves food elsewhere. This belief is further influenced by the premise that adults hold more responsibilities and feel more overwhelmed than ever before (Rosen, 2014). In conjunction, these findings suggest that fast food may be a convenient, cost-effective and pleasing meal that parents purchase for their children.
Anticipated Contribution to Academic Literature & Social Policies
The projected findings will present multiple implications for academic literature and social policies. If this research confirms that adults who view fast food advertisements more frequently are more likely to purchase fast food, than regulations may be placed on advertising. Although no regulations currently exist pertaining to fast food advertising in the United States, in the United Kingdom, businesses are prohibited from advertising junk food to children and adolescents (“UK’s Restrictions on Junk Food Advertising to Children,” 2017). While these regulations are not present in the United States, the United Kingdom’s decision to minimize fast food advertising is believed to have a positive effect on the health of adults throughout the nation’s population. In creating similar legislation, the United States government could minimize the effect fast food advertising has on consumer purchasing habits, thus reducing the quantity of fast food adults’ consumer. Even though there are multiple barriers that may prevent the government from successfully passing new legislation, the Federal Trade Agency has focused heavily on enacting new methods to combat obesity in the United States (“Food Marketing to Children & Adolescents,” 2017). From this perspective, the results of this study could be used to help create awareness for stricter advertising regulations surrounding the fast food industry.
The results of this study could further contribute to future studies, seeking to explore how minimizing fast food advertising and consumption affects the health of the population. This is further evident as being overweight/obese remains one of the great concerns affecting the health of the population. In exploring how reducing factors that contribute to being overweight or obese affect the health of the population, researchers may find that minimizing fast food advertising helps to improve the health of the population. In relating this to other studies, the Federal Trade Agency further acknowledges that the United States government has taken multiple steps to combat obesity through advertisements (“Food Marketing to Children & Adolescents,” 2017). In creating advertisements promoting a healthy lifestyle, the government is attempting to promote factors that increase the health of the population. In viewing the minimization of fast food advertising from this perspective, it can be argued that the results of this study could be used to promote additional health conscious behaviors by minimizing the extent that consumers are shown fast food advertisements.
This research will explore the relationship between fast food advertising and fast food consumption among adult consumers in the United States. Although previous research has established that children and adolescents are more likely to consume higher frequencies of fast food after viewing fast food related advertisements, no studies to date have explored this relationship in adults. In expanding on previous literature, this research will seek to determine what factors influence the likelihood consumers purchase fast food. The researcher hypothesizes that consumers with children, consumers with a low socio-economic status, and consumers who engage in unhealthy lifestyle choices will be more likely to consume fast food more frequently. In testing these hypotheses, this research will establish what variables increase fast food consumption. In isolating these variables, this research will contribute to existing literature as to how the federal government can promote health conscious behaviors. Furthermore, in isolating variables that increase fast food consumption among adults, the findings present in this research could be used to implement new public policies focused on decreasing obesity in the United States.
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