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.