Cereal TV ads aimed at young children put them at increased risk for obesity and cancer, researchers warn.
A poor diet, including too much sugar, can lead to obesity, a known risk factor for 13 cancers.
"One factor believed to contribute to children's poor quality diets is the marketing of nutritionally poor foods directly to children," said Jennifer Emond, a member of the cancer control research program at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, in Lebanon, N.H.
"Brands specifically target children in their advertising knowing that children will ask their parents for those products," Emond said in a medical center news release.
While laboratory studies have shown that TV ads influence children's food choices, no real-world study has been conducted to examine the effectiveness of TV food ads on children's eating habits, according to Emond.
"We conducted the first longitudinal study among preschool-age children to see how exposure to TV ads for high-sugar cereals influences kids' subsequent intake of those advertised cereals," she said.
Emond and colleagues counted, by brand, cereal ads on TV shows watched by the children. Every eight weeks, for one year, parents were asked about the shows their children watched and what cereals their kids ate in the past week.
"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," Emond said.
"Our models accounted for several child, parent and household characteristics, and whether the child ate each cereal before the study started. We were able to isolate the effect of cereal advertisement exposure on kids' intake of cereals, independent of all of those other factors," she explained.
The study was published online recently in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Reducing the marketing of high-sugar foods to children could improve their eating habits and reduce their risk of obesity and related chronic diseases later in life, Emond said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on nutrition.
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