Children exposed to food ads eat more

Obese and overweight children can double the amount they eat after watching food advertisements on television, according to a new study revealed at the European Congress on Obesity.

Researchers from Liverpool University found that children exposed to food ads did not just respond to individual brands advertised, but consumed more overall.

The study, involving a group of 60 children, aged between nine and eleven years, exposed them to a series of both food television adverts and toy adverts, followed by a cartoon. Food intake following the food adverts was significantly higher compared with the toy adverts in all weight groups, with the obese children increasing their consumption by 134%; overweight children by 101% and normal weight children by 84%.

The children's weight also determined their food preference, according to Dr Jason Halford, who undertook the study with researcher Emma Boyland who will present their findings to the conference in Budapest.

Food of varying fat content was provided for the children to choose at will, from high fat sweet snacks to low fat savoury products. The obese children in the group consistently chose the highest fat product - chocolate - whereas the overweight children chose jelly sweets as well.

Dr Jason Halford, Director of the University’s Kissileff Human Ingestive Behaviour Laboratory commented: “Our research confirms food TV advertising has a profound effect on all children’s eating habits – doubling their consumption rate. The study was also particularly interesting in suggesting a strong connection between weight and susceptibility to over-eating when exposed to food adverts on television.”

In this country, 14% of children are classed as obese and the average UK child watches 17 hours of commercial television a week. A ban on junk food advertising around children’s television programmes was introduced in the UK in January 2007 yet surveys have shown that many children still watch during ‘family viewing’ hours in the evening when the ban does not apply.

Further studies are planned to explore to what extent the responsiveness to food adverts or the increased duration of television viewing predicts childhood obesity.

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