Parents, educators, and pediatricians have long expressed concern about the effects fast-food advertising has on children. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that, on average, children watch four hours of television each day and that they see an average of 20,000 commercials every year. According to a new study, those advertisements work. Children who are familiar with fast-food logos and other advertising are more likely to encounter weight problems.
Food Advertising and Weight
To evaluate the effects of unhealthy-food advertising, researchers interviewed 3- to 5-year-olds about their knowledge of fast-food logos and other food brands. The children had to pair food-related marketing materials such as logos and cartoon characters with the foods the marketing materials represented. Children who were highly familiar with fast-food and other unhealthy food brands were more likely to have a high body mass index (BMI). This finding is extremely important for the fight to reduce obesity, since obese children are at an increased risk of becoming obese adults.
Researchers did find that children who exercised were less likely to have a high BMI, even if those children were familiar with fast-food marketing materials. However, in a second study group, researchers were unable to duplicate these results related to exercise.
Limiting the Effects of Advertising on Children
Advertising is everywhere. Many children pass dozens of billboards and signs on the way to school, and an advertisement may be your screen saver on your tablet. It’s impossible to completely shield children from advertising, but parents can take the following steps to limit advertising’s reach:
- Talk to your child about advertising in an age-appropriate way, and ensure he or she understands that an ad is not a presentation of facts.
- Talk to your child about what he or she watches on television and sees online.
- Limit your child’s time spent watching television and using the Internet. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that children under the age of 2 should not watch television at all—even educational TV.
- Consider using a DVR to record your child’s favorite shows so that you can easily fast-forward through commercials.
- Recognize that very young children can’t easily differentiate between commercials and entertainment, so they may need supervision and lots of assistance to tell the difference. Plan on helping your child recognize the difference until at least the age of 8.
- Advertising to children. (n.d.). Advertising Educational Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.aef.com/on_campus/classroom/speaker_pres/data/3005
- Bissonnette, Z. (2011, September 9). How to Protect Your Kids from Commercial Culture. TIME. Retrieved from http://business.time.com/2011/09/09/how-to-protect-your-kids-from-commercial-culture/
- Oswald, T., & McAlister, A. (2014, June 27). Kids Who Know Unhealthy Food Logos More Likely to Be Overweight. Retrieved from http://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2014/kids-who-know-unhealthy-food-logos-more-likely-to-be-overweight-1/
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