TV Commercials Tied To Increased Junk Food

tv commercials junk foodA cheeseburger, pizza, or a fruit snack: if your preschooler thinks that these are healthy foods, you may want to reconsider how much time they’re spending watching TV, and how they’re watching it.

Previous research has tied heavy TV viewing with obesity in children, but studies had not yet differentiated between TV watching with commercials, versus commercial-free, digitally-recorded TV, or other media without food advertising—until now. A new study from researchers at the University of Michigan has found that the way in which children watch TV makes a difference, in terms of contributors to childhood obesity. The findings showed that TV viewing that includes commercials, as opposed to the various forms of commercial-free TV, was related to greater junk food consumption.

More than 100 parents were interviewed about a wide variety of family characteristics, including child and parent media exposure, and child dietary intake. Then, separate interviews were conducted with children in preschools to get a feel for what children thought was a healthy meal. The objective was to see how family characteristics were associated with children’s dietary intake and their perceptions of healthy meals. Very little research on media viewing in children has focused on the preschool age, when children are still learning about food as it relates to health from family and media, as well as other sources, and may use this knowledge later on to inform their decisions when parents and caregivers are not around to guide them.

The study found that the media-junk food association is very strong among people who are considered “food-secure” (meaning those who do not live in hunger, or fear of starvation). Media-junk food associate was almost zero among food-insecure people. Because food insecurity is related to having limited income, it restricts how much money people can spend on junk food. On the other hand, food-secure people can afford to give in to cravings when watching food advertising. Food-secure participants were more likely to eat junk food, and their children had distorted views on what makes up a healthy meal. The study authors said that preschool is a critical age to address healthy eating, as “the adiposity rebound (when body fat declines to a minimum, before increasing again into adulthood) in kids who grow up to be normal weight tends to be around age 5 or 6. But for kids to grow up to be obese, adiposity rebound happens closer to age 3. We need to know as much as we can about the factors that encourage obesogenic eating during the preschool years.” At the least, this study serves as a reminder to parents of how commercials can influence our perception of food and the choices that we make when it comes to eating.

Related Reading:

Junk Food During Pregnancy Affects Child

Difficult to Reduce Kids’ TV Time


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