Time to Change the Channel? TV ads and Children’s Health

by Wellness Editor – MH

Children watch a lot of television, and as a result are exposed to a barrage of commercials. During these commercial breaks, there’s a good chance an advertisement for breakfast cereal will appear on the TV screen. While they may appear silly and harmless, such commercials could have serious consequences for young viewers decades down the line. 

Keeping the Kids Happy

In a study published online in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers concluded that exposure to TV cereal ads can shape children’s diets. Specifically, children who regularly see advertisements for sugary cereals are more likely to ask their parents to buy such products. Unfortunately, parents will often give in to their children’s begging. 

Jennifer Emond, a study author and cancer researcher, noted in a press release that “one factor believed to contribute to children’s poor quality diets is the marketing of nutritionally poor foods directly to children. Brands specifically target children in their advertising knowing that children will ask their parents for those products.”

Looking at the Data

This particular report was the first study to examine the real-world impact of television ads on children’s health. Participating adults were asked at eight week intervals to describe the programs watched by their children. Furthermore, they were also required to disclose the cereals their offspring had consumed over the preceding seven days. 

“Our models accounted for several child, parent and household characteristics, and whether the child ate each cereal before the study started,” stated Emond. “We were able to isolate the effect of cereal advertisement exposure on kids’ intake of cereals, independent of all of those other factors.”

So what did these models reveal? Edmond noted that “We found that kids who were exposed to TV ads for high-sugar cereals aired in the programs they watched were more likely to subsequently eat the cereals they had seen advertised.”

Given their findings, the research team contends that marketing restrictions on junk-food cereals could prove beneficial to the long term health of America’s children.

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