Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Master of Arts




Gilliland, Jason A.


Food environments are influential in shaping dietary behaviours of adolescents. Exposure to food and beverage marketing is known to impact food knowledge, behaviours, and health outcomes, yet food environment research largely overlooks advertisements. Given that marketers tend to advertise less healthy foods to teens and teens predominantly purchase low-nutrient foods, it is crucial to study the information environment in the context of secondary school environments. This thesis uses a sequential mixed-methods approach, including environmental audits and teen consultations, to develop and apply a teen-informed tool to measure the power of advertisements surrounding secondary schools. Results indicate that exposure to and power of advertisements increases closer to schools, and total advertising power is highest within schools. This research offers a novel methodology and provides a more nuanced understanding of food marketing to teens. This thesis urges policymakers to consider the impacts of teen-directed marketing to help protect teens from food advertising.

Summary for Lay Audience

There are many factors that contribute to dietary health outcomes, including individual, biological, and environmental factors. However, food environments, which include all surroundings and conditions that affect one’s dietary behaviours, are increasingly recognized as critical determinants of health. Although food environments are made up of various elements, this thesis concentrates on measuring the food-related information environment, which consists of all food and beverage advertising and marketing within a community. This component of the information environment is important to study, as it is interweaved within many other aspects of the food environment (e.g., in schools, community spaces, outside food stores). Environmental audits were conducted to photograph outdoor food-related vendor signage, billboards, and transit shelters within the study area, and teens were consulted to more deeply understand how food advertising and marketing techniques affect teens’ food perceptions and purchasing behaviours. The two related studies in this thesis aimed to 1) develop a teen-derived coding tool to measure the marketing power (i.e., creative content, design and execution) of food and beverage advertisements, and then 2) apply this coding tool to the information environment both surrounding and within a sample of Canadian secondary schools. Spatial analyses showed that vendor exposure (i.e., # of food vendors per km2), advertising exposure (i.e., # of food advertisements per km2), and total advertising power (i.e., sum of advertisement power per km2) is higher near secondary schools. This methodological contribution adopts a teen-specific perspective, and advances this field by providing researchers with a tool to assess how the information environment is presented to teens. These findings demonstrate the pervasiveness of teen-directed food and beverage marketing across contexts, and advocates for the restriction of food and beverage marketing to this vulnerable population. The outcomes from this thesis support the need for food marketing policies that reduce marketing exposure within communities and promote healthier dietary behaviours within daily food environments.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.