Children’s exposure to TV ads about high-sugar cereals influences their food intake, which increases their health risks for obesity as well as cancers, warns a research. The study, led by a team from the Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, US, showed that high-sugar cereals are heavily promoted during programmes aired for children on TV. Kids who were exposed to such TV ads were more likely to subsequently eat the brands of cereals they had seen advertised, the researchers said.
Children’s eating habits develop during the preschool years, and children who are overweight by the age of 5 are likely to remain overweight into adolescence and adulthood.
The adoption of poor eating habits diets of low quality, too few fruits and vegetables and too much sugar, salt and fat can lead to obesity, a known risk factor for 13 cancers, they noted.
“One factor believed to contribute to children’s poor quality diets is the marketing of nutritionally-poor foods directly to children,” said Jennifer Emond, from the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Centre.
“Brands specifically target children in their advertising knowing that children will ask their parents for those products.”
For the study, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, the team included preschool-age children to see how exposure to TV ads for high-sugar cereals influences kids’ subsequent intake of those advertised cereals.
Emond’s team purchased an advertising database and actually counted, by brand, the cereal ads that aired on the children’s TV network programmes each child watched. Parents were asked about the shows their kids watched and what cereals their kids ate in the past week, every eight weeks, for one year.
Efforts to promote and support quality diets at a young age are important to foster the lifestyle behaviours needed to maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of chronic disease including many cancers.
“There are policy-level actions that could be implemented to reduce children’s exposure to food marketing and to improve the quality of the foods marketed to kids. And we as parents have the choice to switch to ad-free TV for our children and for ourselves,” Emond noted.