TV Food Ads Influence Kids’ Choices

Posted 10/25/2016 | By HealthCorps

Current data suggests that food advertising is a multi-billion dollar industry.  Within that budget, $1.8 billion is spent annually to target kids and teens.  Your kids and adolescents are exposed to between 1000 and 2000 foods ads yearly.  A new study in The Journal of Pediatrics supports previous studies, suggesting that food ads directly influence kids’ brains and their food choices.  Are we really surprised?

This latest study assembled twenty three kids, ages eight to fourteen, and asked them to rate 60 food items, identifying how healthy or how tasty they were.  The research team studied the brains of these kid subjects while they watched both food and non-food advertisements.  Specifically they wanted to monitor brain activity associated with reward valuation, an area located in the pre-fontal cortex of the brain.  One specific element of the study involved asking the kids if they wanted foods they saw in a commercial, right after viewing the commercial.

Study results showed that the kids’ food choices and decisions about specific selections were largely driven by “perceived tastiness” versus healthfulness pf a food.  When the kids watched food commercials, taste became even more important, and seemed to instigate faster decisions on food choices.  The imaging of the brain showed that the pre-frontal cortex area was much more active right after the kids watched the food commercials.

Food ads have been implicated as one of the many causes of rising rates of childhood and teen obesity.

This study suggests that food ads actually change the way children value taste, by increasing the number of impulsive food choices kids make.  If your child comes home from school and sits down in front of the TV to “chill out” and de-stress after a hard day of mental work at school, and views programming that offers food ads during programming breaks, this study suggests your child will likely grab available unhealthy food choices more quickly, and choose heftier portions.

Obviously young children can only grab the snacks and foods that parents choose to have readily available in the home – a good reason to stock your refrigerator and pantry with fruits, vegetables, mini packs of nuts, small boxes of healthy, whole grain cereals, Greek yogurt, nut butter and whole grain bread, and healthy protein-rich dips like hummus and bean-based selections.

This recent study indicates that we are more prone to turn to food after difficult mental tasks.  Try and get your kids to engage with some physical activity before they sit down for the standard after-school-snack.  After-school-exercise may help to limit the number of calories they consume.

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