Kids watch 800 junk food TV ads a year

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Sitting the kids in front of the TV has long been the way of busy parents, allowing a few moments of quiet while Elmo or any other friendly faces keep the kids entertained. But new research shows that by placing your kids in front of the box for even a short period of time could expose them to a flurry of junk food advertising.

Research led by the University of Adelaide shows that children were exposed to twice as many TV ads about junk food compared to ads containing healthy foods, which could not only derail your plans for dinner, but their future health as well.

During children’s peak viewing times, such as before and after school, snack foods, takeaway and sugary drinks were advertised 2.3 times more than healthy foods, the research found.

National Heart Foundation CEO, John Kelly, said the research findings were “disturbing”.

The research, which recorded 30,000 hours of free-to-air television during 2016, showed that children could be exposed to more than 800 junk food ads per year if they watched 80 minutes of television a day. Reports from the Australian Institute of Family Studies showed that many children are spending more than three hours a day in front of the screen.

“Australian health, nutrition and policy experts agree that reducing children’s exposure to junk food ads is an important part of tackling obesity and there is broad public support for stronger regulation of advertising to protect children,” said research leader and Associate Professor, Lisa Smithers.

“Diet-related problems are the leading cause of disease in Australia and the World Health Organisation has concluded that food marketing influences the types of foods children prefer to eat, ask their parents for, and ultimately consume.”

What does this mean for families?

Unfortunately for parents, limiting the exposure isn’t as simple as turning off the TV.

“Another issue to remember is that this is just television, children are being exposed to advertising from other media as well,” said Ms Smithers.

With the research the first of its kind, health officials are hopeful that the findings will motivate the government into action. The current Children’s Television Standards, which cover advertising during children’s television programs, is voluntary and has no process for monitoring children’s exposure to food advertising, meaning there isn’t much between your kids and the big junk food companies.

“This is the kind of thing that would be fairly easy to set up to monitor change over time and to evaluate the impact of different policies,” added Ms Smithers.

“I would love to see the results of our research play a role in protecting children from the effects of junk food advertising.”

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