At A Glance

Noteworthy Characteristics

  • Nielsen ratings data allow researchers to document the overall composition (by food type) of advertising during children, teen, and adult programming.
  • Data can be used to track the exposure to food advertising over a given period of time.
  • Data can track brand advocacy and targeting of special audiences, such as children and adolescents.
  • Household media use data are available by age, sex, and race.
  • Integrates data collected from various media (Internet, television, mobile).



To collect data about media use and preferences for households in the United States (U.S.).

Target Population

U.S. households in the 48 contiguous states.


Began in 1950 (Nielsen ratings for television). Conducted on an ongoing basis. Neilsen Media Research (NMR) was created in 1996. Nielsen purchased NetRatings in 2007 to track online viewing.


The Nielsen Company

Special Note(s)

Nielsen collects data at the national level and from other countries as well as the U.S.

Data are collected electronically using a meter installed in participants’ homes. Preferences are determined by tracking use of media, such as programs viewed or websites visited.

Nielsen Media Research uses text mining and other strategies to collect online consumer behavior information from blogs, social networking sites, groups, message boards, and other consumer-generated media platforms.

The James M. Kilts Center for Marketing at Chicago Booth and the Nielsen Company have partnered to make two Nielsen consumer marketing datasets available to U.S.-based academic researchers. Additional information is available at the Chicago Booth School website:

See also Nielsen Homescan® and Nielsen Scantrack®.


Sample Design

Panel/longitudinal survey.

Each household panel member participates for 2 years. Random digit dialing and online panel recruitment are used to obtain a sample that is as nationally representative as possible. Stratified sampling and oversampling of certain populations (e.g., youth, racial/ethnic minorities) also is performed. Learn more.

Sample Size

Approximately 25,000 households in 2009 (participating in the daily metering system).

Special Note(s)

The statistical power for these data is limited and may decrease as the number of programming options increases (online and on television) while the proportion of total households sampled relative to the total U.S. population of households using the media of interest remains the same (currently only about 2 percent).

Key Variables


NameMethods of Assessment
Age of household membersInterview/questionnaire


NameMethods of Assessment
Exposure to food and beverage advertising (for specific products), as well as anti-obesity advertisements.Meter (tracking programming)

Physical Activity-Related

NameMethods of Assessment
Frequency of television viewing, videogames, and Internet use each day (sedentary behaviors)Meter (tracking usage), Interview/questionnaire


NameMethods of Assessment
County, state, metropolitan market areaN/A

Data Access and Cost

Data Availability

Contact AC Nielsen to obtain data.



Special Note(s)

AC Nielsen is a commercial firm that sells its data.


Geocode Variable(s)

County, state, metropolitan market area (not metropolitan statistical areas).

Existing Linkages

Nielsen data on various factors (including television viewership) have been linked to census data on demographics (e.g., income) using Nielsen Designated Market Areas (DMAs) and zip codes. Documentation is available from Nielsen that shows the zip codes and counties associated with DMAs.

Selected Publications


Powell LM, Szczypka G, Chaloupka FJ, Braunschweig CL. Nutritional content of television food advertisements seen by children and adolescents in the United States. Pediatrics 2007;120(3):576-583.

Powell LM, Szczypka G, Chaloupka FJ. Trends in exposure to television food advertisements among children and adolescents in the United States. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine 2010;164(9):794-802.


Holt DJ, Ippolito PM, Desrochers DM, Kelley CR. Children's exposure to TV advertising in 1977 and 2004: Information for the obesity debate. Washington (D.C.): U.S. Federal Trade Commission, 2007.


None noted.