Early view- Food, nutrition and slimming in British women’s magazines

Barker and colleagues have published a pair of papers which document the dietary messages conveyed in British women’s magazines between the 1950s and 1990s. The papers are now available on Early View.


Nutrition claims in British women’s magazines from 1940 to 1955


The present study examined dietary messages conveyed in articles and advertising in two popular British women’s magazines, Woman and Home and Woman’s Own, between 1940 and 1954.


A qualitative analysis of written content was performed, focusing on regularities evident in content, and addressing the construction of the role of women in relation to food provision, as well as assertions for nutritional health. The setting comprised a desk-based study. The study sample encompassed 37 magazines, and yielded a corpus of 569 articles concerned with food or dietary supplements, of which 80.1% were advertisements.


Ministry of Food dietary advice featured prominently up to 1945 and advocated food consumption according to a simple nutrient classification. Advertising and article content also used this classification; advocating consumption of food and supplements on the grounds of energy, growth and protection of health was customary. Providing food to meet nutritional needs was depicted as fundamental to women’s war effort and their role as dutiful housewives. Advertising in 1950s magazines also focused on nutritional claims, with a particular emphasis on energy provision.


These claims reflected the prevailing food policy and scientific understanding of nutritional health. This analysis of food messages in women’s magazines provides lessons for contemporary nutrition policy.


Food, nutrition and slimming messages in British women’s magazines, 1950–1998


The present study examined temporality in the representation of food in two popular British women’s magazines between 1950 and 1998.


A quantitative content analysis of (i) prevalence of cooking, slimming, nutrition advice in articles; (ii) prevalence of food advertising by food type; and (iii) likelihood of various nutrition and consumer messages in advertising was performed on a sample comprising 200 magazines, with 3045 advertisements and 88 articles.


The prevalence of food advertisements decreased (P < 0.001), whereas food articles increased, across decades (P < 0.001). Cooking tips dominated 1950s food writing (100%), contrasting with miniscule coverage in the 1990s (5%). Slimming advice was not represented in 1950s articles and was most common in 1970s articles (55% of articles). Food advertising for all food types decreased in the 1990s decade. There were greater bread and cereals (P < 0.001), protein foods (P = 0.001) and dairy (P < 0.001) advertising in later decades; advertising for sugar- and fat-rich foods (P < 0.001), condiments and baking ingredients (P < 0.001) and beverages (P < 0.001) was greater in earlier decades. Odds of advertising claims for energy, easy digestion, nourishment, general health, economy, good for family (allP < 0.01), pleased others (P = 0.017) and convenience (P = 0.031) were greater in the 1950s and decreased thereafter. Claims around taste and quality were highest in the 1960s (all P < 0.01). Mineral, additive-free, and protein claims were most likely to be invoked in 1970s advertising (all P < 0.01). Low-fat, low-calorie and fibre claims peaked in the 1980s (all P < 0.01), whereas the odds of specific fat claims was greatest in the 1990s (P = 0.015).


Representation of food resonated with prevailing food culture but was not always congruent with nutrition policy.


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