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Most TV Food Ads for Children Portray Unhealthy Items

Researchers found high fat, sugar or sodium in foods featured in thousands of commercials

TUESDAY, Sept. 4 (HealthDay News) -- The vast majority of advertisements for food that children and adolescents see on television are for products high in fat, sugar or sodium, researchers report in the September issue of Pediatrics.

Lisa M. Powell, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois in Chicago, and colleagues reviewed 50,351 thirty-second food-related television ads aimed at children aged 2 to 11, and another 47,955 ads aimed at adolescents aged 12 to 17. These ran during a nine-month period in top-rated shows for these age groups on broadcast, cable and syndicated outlets. The researchers weighted the advertisements using a ratings system that incorporated the reach and frequency of the commercials.

The investigators found that 97.8 percent of food-product advertisements viewed by the younger children were for products high in fat, sugar or sodium, based on standards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Academy of Sciences. For the adolescent group, 89.4 percent of the foods advertised were high in these ingredients. In addition, sugar accounted for 46.1 percent and 49.1 percent of the total calories in the foods in the commercials watched by children and adolescents, respectively.

"Overall, these findings have important implications given that previous studies showed that exposure to food advertising significantly influences children's food preferences/choices, food intake, and product-specific food purchase requests among young children," the authors write. "In addition, young children are estimated to directly influence $330 billion of parental spending."

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