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Health Educ Q. 1982 Summer-Fall;9(2-3):174-89.

The development of children's eating habits: the role of television commercials.


There is growing evidence that the long-term consumption of the typical high-sugar, high-calorie American diet may lead to a variety of health problems. Since the majority of food ads on television are for high-sugar, high-calorie types of foods, researchers have begun investigating the effects of these commercials. A number of self-report, survey, and correlational studies have found that children watch on the average 28 hours of TV a week, see over 11,000 low-nutrition "junk" food ads a year on TV, believe (at the younger ages) that commercials tell the truth, recall the ads, and often request in stores foods that are highly advertised. A series of behavioral/experimental studies conducted at the University of Montana are reported in some detail. The initial stage of the research focused upon the development of a methodology for assessing the impact of commercials upon the actual amounts of foods consumed. Next, a series of studies investigating the effects of low-nutrition, pro-nutrition, and nonfood commercials upon the eating behaviors of children was begun. The results, to date, suggest low-nutrition ads are most effective in increasing total caloric consumption. Additionally, low-nutrition ads seem to affect boys more than girls and are not mediated by cognitive development. Finally, pro-nutrition ads have so far proven ineffective in increasing consumption of pro-nutrition foods. Some of the implications of applying the growing body of empirical literature on children's television to social policy issues are also discussed.

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