Kids Who Watch TV Drink More Sweetened Beverages

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GOTHENBURG, Sweden—A new study published in the International Journal of Public Health suggests children who spend a lot of time watching television and who are exposed to TV advertisements have increased consumption of sweetened beverages. The results of the study strengthened the assumption that it is possible to influence children’s dietary habits through their TV habits.

Previous research shows that the marketing of high-calorie and nutrient-poor foods and beverages is linked to overweight and obesity among children and youths in the United States.

Just last month, a study, “Food Marketing to Children on U.S. Spanish-Language Television" funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the food and beverage industry’s pledge to self-regulate food advertisements targeting children is not effective, especially on Spanish-language television

For the new study, researchers at the University of Gothenburg investigated the associations between children’s screen habits and their consumption of sweetened beverages. Because parents might be disposed to regulate their child’s screen and dietary habits in a similar direction, the study’s specific aim was to examine whether these associations were independent of parental norms.

Parents of more than 1,700 2- to 4-year-olds in Sweden responded to questions about their children's TV and screen habits and consumption of sweetened drinks.  The study was conducted in 2007 as part of the EU research project IDEFICS—Identification and Prevention of Dietary and Lifestyle -Induced Health Effects in Children and Infants. It reveals a very clear link between children's TV habits and their consumption of sweetened drinks.

About 1 in 7 parents indicated that they tried to reduce their children's exposure to TV advertisements; the same parents stated their children were less prone to drink soft drinks and other sweetened beverages. Children of parents who were less strict about TV advertisements were twice as likely to consume sweetened beverages every week.

“The children who watched more TV were more likely to drink these beverages. In fact, each additional hour in front of the TV increased the likelihood of regular consumption by 50%. A similar link was found for total screen time," said Stina Olafsdottir, Ph.D. student at the Department of Food and Nutrition, and Sport Science and one of the researchers behind the study.

The study also found that children with higher exposure to food advertisements on TV were more likely to consume sweetened beverages on a regular basis in a follow-up study conducted two years after the initial study. However, exposure to TV advertisements could not explain the link between TV habit and beverage consumption entirely. It is therefore likely that the TV programs watched also matter or that children simply enjoy drinking these types of beverages while watching TV, the researchers concluded.

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