Advertisements for unhealthy foods and beverages with high sugar or salt may be contributing to the growing obesity epidemic among children as researchers have found that such commercials adversely impact their food choice and lead to harmful diets.
The researchers examined caloric intake and dietary preference among more than 6,000 children and assessed the effects of unhealthy food and beverage marketing. The study showed that marketing increased dietary intake and influenced dietary preference in children during or shortly after exposure to advertisements.
“The findings demonstrate the influence that these advertisements, which are a growing epidemic, have on children’s food choices,” said lead author Behnam Sadeghirad, Ph.D. student at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
The study, published in the scientific journal Obesity Reviews, revealed that children are exposed to an average of five food ads per hour, with unhealthy foods accounting for greater than 80 per cent of all televised food advertisements in Canada, the United States and Germany.
When children were exposed to unhealthy advertisements, they consumed significantly more unhealthy than healthy calories, the findings showed. The study also suggest that younger children might be more susceptible to the impact of food and beverage marketing in terms of quantity and quality of calories consumed.
“Overall, our analyses show the need for a review of public policy on child-targeted unhealthy food and beverage marketing,” corresponding author of the study Assistant Professor Bradley Johnston at McMaster added.