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TV Triggers Deadly Automatic Snacking Behavior

Tuesday, July 28, 2009 by: Michael Jolliffe
Tags: snacking, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) Junk food television advertising may cause dangerous automatic snacking behavior and lead to potentially deadly weight gain and obesity in both adults and children alike, according to the results of a new study published in the journal Health Psychology.

Researchers at Yale University conducted a series of experiments to assess the impact of eating behavior during TV viewing that included junk food advertising, health food advertising or no advertising at all.

Results revealed that children watching a 30 minute cartoon integrating commercials about junk food ate as much as 45% more snack food while watching the show as compared to those who watched the same show without any food commercials. The researchers estimate that from only a half hour of television viewing a day, the increase in snacking caused by food advertising would lead to a weight gain of nearly 10 pounds a year.

A further study showed that adults who were exposed to unhealthy food TV ads consumed significantly more food than those who saw healthy ads that highlighted good nutrition.

In the experiments with both children and adults, food advertising increased eating for all available foods, even foods that were not specifically presented in the advertisements.

"This research shows a direct and powerful link between television food advertising and calories consumed by adults and children. These experiments demonstrate the power of food advertising to prime automatic eating behaviours", said lead author Jennifer Harris, PhD, Director of Marketing Initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale.

"Food advertising triggers automatic eating, regardless of hunger, and is a significant contributor to the obesity epidemic. Reducing unhealthy food advertising to children is critical." [1]

A number of previous research studies have shown that eating in front of the TV leads to excess calorie intake and decreases the amount of fruits and vegetables eaten. Similarly, a 2008 study by scientists at the University of Waterloo in Canada also found that television causes an increase in mindless snacking behaviour, leading to significant increases in body weight, independent of advertising frequency or content. [2] Perhaps unsurprisingly, a strong association can be found between the proportion of children overweight and the numbers of advertisements per hour on children's television in virtually any region of the western world. [3]

However, more positive research has found that advertisements for nutritious foods promote positive attitudes and beliefs in children concerning those foods. Changing the food advertising environment on children's TV to one where nutritious foods are promoted and junk foods are relatively unrepresented would help to normalize and reinforce healthy eating. [4]

[1] Harris et al. Priming effects of television food advertising on eating behavior. Health Psychology. Vol 28(4), 2009, 404-413.
[2] Thomas et al. The association of television viewing with snacking behavior and body weight of young adults. Am J Health Promot. 2008 May-Jun;22(5):329-35.
[3] Lobstein et al. Evidence of a possible link between obesogenic food advertising and child overweight. Obes Rev. 2005 Aug;6(3):203-8.
[4] Dixon et al. The effects of television advertisements for junk food versus nutritious food on children's food attitudes and preferences. Soc Sci Med. 2007 Oct;65(7):1311-23.

About the author

Michael Jolliffe is a freelance writer based in Oxford, UK.

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