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TV Commercials and Weight

By Rallie McAllister, MD, MPH

You might be accustomed to screening TV programs before you allow your kids to watch them, but new research suggests that it might be just as important to screen the TV commercials that your children watch.

Researchers at the University of Liverpool discovered that kids who watch television commercials for unhealthy foods are more likely to want to eat the same or similar types of high-fat and high-sugar foods. For their recent study*, the scientists evaluated the food preferences of 281 children aged six to 13 years old after exposing them to two types of television advertisements.

The children were shown an episode of a popular cartoon on two separate occasions, two weeks apart. Before each viewing of the cartoon, the children were exposed to five minutes of commercials. On one occasion, the commercials featured toys and on the other occasion, the commercials featured junk food and fast food. After each viewing, the children were given lists of various food items, both branded and unbranded, and then asked what they would like to eat.

The researchers found that after watching the food commercials, the children were more likely to choose junk foods rich in fats and carbohydrates than they were after viewing the toy commercials. The scientists also found that children who watched television for more than 21 hours a week were more likely to be influenced by the food commercials than children who spent less time parked in front of the TV. The children who spent more time watching television also had a significantly greater body mass index (BMI) than those who were less frequent viewers.

Thank goodness for TiVo! By recording your kids’ favorite programs ahead of time, you can skip over all the commercials when it’s time to watch the show. The fewer junk food commercials your children are exposed to, the healthier they’re likely to be!


* “Food Commercials Increase Preference for Energy-Dense Foods, Particularly in Children Who Watch More Television”. Pediatrics, 2011; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2010-1859

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