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Do junk food ads contribute to childhood obesity?

Research continues to find a strong relationship between the increased marketing of non-nutritious foods to children and the rates of childhood obesity. Here are some ideas on how to cut down your child's exposure to junk food ads.

Do junk food ads contribute to childhood obesity?


Looking for another reason children should step away from the TV? You can add “contributes to obesity” to the list.  In fact, a report from the World Health Organization’s European office stated that the marketing of junk food to children through commercials and social media has become “disastrously effective” to the health of children.  Now with one in three children in America considered overweight or obese, could part of the answer really be a remote click away?

Research continues to prove that there is a strong correlation between the increased marketing of non-nutritious foods to children and the rates of childhood obesity.  A recent study by the University of Michigan found that children who regularly watched television commercials consumed more junk food, and had a distorted view of healthy portion sizes and choices, than households where commercial-free television was viewed.  The most frequently advertised foods were sugar-sweetened beverages, sweetened cereals, prepackaged snack foods, fast foods, and convenience meals.   

Television isn’t the only place where children and teens are being exposed to unhealthy marketing.  Children’s websites, social media sites, and smart phone apps also target children and teens with age-specific product advertising. Children under the age of eight cannot understand the persuasive intent of advertising, according to the American Psychological Association.  The APA also states that “product preference” is established after just one commercial exposure, and is strengthened with repeated exposures. 

Though government regulations on marketing to children are beginning to change, there are things that you can do to decrease your family’s exposure to these detrimental ads.  The single most important thing you can do is to limit your child’s “screen time” to two hours per day.  Screen time includes any time spent watching television, on computers, gaming systems, and smart phones.   Reducing screen time helps to ensure that there are limits on both exposure to junk food ads and sedentary behavior. 

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Another approach would be changing the way you watch television.  Watching television from a DVR allows for fast-forwarding through commercials, therefore limiting the advertisement exposure opportunities. Children who watch television using a DVR had reduced levels of junk food consumption, found the University of Michigan research. If you don’t have a DVR, another way to skip the commercials is to have children complete a task during show breaks.  Putting toys away, packing their backpack, or picking out clothes for the next day are all tasks that can be completed during the three-minute breaks. 

Lastly, simply talk with your children about what foods you are willing to bring into your house, and explain to them why some of the foods advertised might not be good for their bodies. Sometimes it can be a battle getting kids to eat nutritious foods. One way to help you and your children is to limit the external pressures of junk food ads.  


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About this blog
The Healthy Kids blog is your window into the latest news, research and advice around children's health. Learn more about our growing list of contributors here.

If you have questions about your child's health, ask them here.

Anna Nguyen Healthy Kids blog Editor
Stephen Aronoff, M.D., M.B.A. Temple University Hospital
Peter Bidey, D.O. Medical Director of Family Medicine at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Christopher C. Chang, M.D., Ph.D Jefferson Medical College
Mario Cruz, M.D. St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, Drexel University College of Medicine
Katherine K. Dahlsgaard, Ph.D. Lead Psychologist - The Anxiety Behaviors Clinic, CHOP
Gary A. Emmett, M.D. Director of Hospital Pediatrics at TJU Hospital & Pediatrics Professor at Thomas Jefferson Univ.
Lauren Falini Bariatric exercise physiologist, Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children
Hazel Guinto-Ocampo, M.D. Nemours duPont Pediatrics/Bryn Mawr Hospital
Rima Himelstein, M.D. Crozer-Keystone Health System
Jessica Kendorski, PhD, NCSP, BCBA-D Associate Professor in School Psychology/Applied Behavior Analysis at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Anita Kulick President & CEO, Educating Communities for Parenting
Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA VP for Programs & Research for Prevent Child Abuse America
Beth Wallace Smith, R.D. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
W. Douglas Tynan, Ph.D. Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, Jefferson Medical Colg
Flaura Koplin Winston, M.D., Ph.D Scientific Director of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention
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