Researchers at the University of Liverpool have found that children who watch adverts for unhealthy food on television are more likely to want to eat high-fat and high-sugar foods.
The study in the journal Pediatrics looked at the food preferences of a group of 281 children aged six to 13 years from the North West of England.
The children were shown an episode of a popular cartoon before being shown it again two weeks later. In each case, the cartoon was preceded by five minutes of commercials – one set showing toy adverts and one showing mainly snacks and fast food. After each showing the children were given lists of various food items, both branded and unbranded, and asked what they would like to eat.
The study found that after viewing the food commercials the children were more likely to pick unhealthy foods. All the children chose more branded and non-branded fat-rich and carbohydrate-rich items from the food preference lists compared with those they chose after viewing the toy adverts.
The study also found that children who watched television for more than 21 hours a week were more likely to be affected by the food adverts than those children who watched a lesser amount of television. These children also had a significantly greater body mass index than those who were less frequent viewers.
Dr Emma Boyland, who led the research team, at Liverpool University’s Kissileff Laboratory for the Study of Human Ingestive Behaviour comments: “Obesity in young children is now a major health concern around the world. Our studies highlight that there are global connections between advertising, food preferences and consumption. This is a beyond-brand effect, increasing children’s selections of all unhealthy foods – not just those shown in adverts.”
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