Children as young as two years of age may be influenced in their food choices by a 30-second advertisement they see on television, say researchers from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and the Stanford Center for Research in Disease Prevention in Palo Alto, California.
The investigators found that a group of children aged 2 to 6 years were more likely to choose food products that they saw advertised compared with youngsters who had not viewed the commercials. In fact, just one or two commercials were enough to influence their choices.
Some researchers speculate that childhood obesity results from children spending more time watching television than in any other waking activity, thereby being exposed constantly to televised portrayals of high-fat, high-energy foods. Parents need to understand the power of advertising on young children and limit the time they spend watching TV, the researchers state.
The researchers asked 46 toddlers to watch a videotape with or without commercials, and then asked them to choose the products they preferred from nine pairs of similar foods, such as doughnuts, juice, peanut butter and candy bars. The results showed children who watched the advertisements were significantly more likely to choose the advertised brands. Advertisements for new products were particularly influential.
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