SUNDAY, April 29, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Kids who recognize fast-food advertisements on TV are more likely to be overweight, and those familiar with TV ads for alcoholic beverages are more likely to drink, according to two new studies from Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.
In one study, researchers questioned more than 2,500 young people ranging from 15 to 20 years old about their exposure to alcohol, if they had a favorite alcohol ad, and if they owned alcohol-branded merchandise, among other behaviors.
After being shown 20 images from the most popular TV ads for alcohol and 20 ads for fast food, with the brand names removed, the participants were then asked if they remembered the ads, liked the ads and knew about the products being advertised.
The researchers found that 59 percent of kids drank and 49 had engaged in binge drinking at least once the previous year. Familiarity with TV alcohol advertising was much higher among the drinkers than nondrinkers, and having alcohol-branded merchandise or having a favorite alcohol ad was linked to more hazardous drinking.
The studies were scheduled for presentation Sunday at the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual meeting in Boston.
"At present, the alcohol industry employs voluntary standards to direct their advertising to audiences comprised of adults of legal drinking age," said study lead author Dr. Susanne Tanski, an assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at Children's Hospital at Dartmouth, in a news release from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
"Our findings of high levels of familiarity with alcohol ads demonstrate that underage youth still frequently see these ads," Tanski added. "While this study cannot determine which came first, the exposure to advertising or the drinking behavior, it does suggest that alcohol advertising may play a role in underage drinking, and the standards for alcohol-ad placement perhaps should be more strict."
A separate study from Dartmouth found greater awareness of fast-food commercials among children is linked to obesity.
This time, researchers asked more than 3,300 young people ranging in age from 15 to 23 years old about their height, weight, consumption of soda and fast food, and certain lifestyle behaviors, such as watching TV and snacking in front of the TV.
The participants were shown 20 images from TV ads for fast-food restaurants that aired within the past year but were digitally altered to conceal the brand names. This group was also shown 20 images from popular alcohol ads.
The study found roughly 18 percent of those surveyed were overweight, and 15 percent were obese. The percentage of obese young was significantly higher among those who recognized more fast-food ads than those familiar with only a few. Even after taking other factors into account, the kids who recognized many ads were more than twice as likely to be obese than those who just knew a few of the ads.
"The relation between fast-food marketing and obesity is not simply that it prompts more quick-serve restaurant visits," said study co-author Dr. James Sargent, a professor in the Dartmouth pediatrics department, in the news release. Instead, "individuals who are more familiar with these ads may have food-consumption patterns that include many types of high-calorie food brands, or they may be especially sensitive to visual cues to eat while watching TV.
The study's authors noted the link between fast-food ads and obesity was specific, and said more research is necessary to understand the connection.
"A similar association with obesity was not found for familiarity with televised alcohol ads, suggesting that the relationship was specific to fast-food advertising content," said the study's lead author, Dr. Auden McClure, an assistant professor in the department of pediatrics, in the news release.
The more that is known about how media and marketing affect young people, the better equipped pediatricians and parents will be to guide them in making healthy diet choices, McClure concluded.
Data and conclusions presented at medical meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer reviewed medical journal.
The University of Michigan provides more information on how television affects children.