TV junk-food ads do boost kids' appetites: study

Mon Jun 27, 2011 9:00pm EDT
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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Television ads for junk food really do make children hungry for those treats, especially if they watch a lot of television, according to a study.

The findings, published in Pediatrics, come amid growing calls to ban junk food advertisements aimed at children in order to combat obesity -- most recently from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which issued a policy statement on junk food ads on Monday.

In tests with 6- to 13-year olds, researchers led by Emma Boyland of the University of Liverpool in the UK found that a DVD featuring commercials for fast food and junk food seemed to whet children's appetites for sweet and high-fat fare.

"Exposure to television food commercials enhanced high television viewers' preferences for branded foods and increased reported preferences for all food items (branded and unbranded) relative to the low television viewers," she wrote.

The children involved in the research reported a greater desire for sweet and fatty foods after viewing the junk-food ads compared to days when they watched commercials for toys.

This was especially true for children who usually watched a lot of TV in their everyday lives, with "a lot" defined by the researchers as over 21 hours a week.

On average, kids wanted more high-carb, high-fat foods after watching food commercials.

But researchers said the effects of the food ads were modest, making only a small difference in the average number of food items the children said they wanted "right now."

In real life, as well, a lot of other factors would be at work, including parents' willingness to buy those foods.   Continued...

<p>A boy poses with a chicken burger at a fast food outlet in Taipei January 29, 2010. REUTERS/Nicky Loh</p>