If health advocates want to combat obesity by teaching young people how to eat better, they might want to cast an eye on competing messages on television.
When researchers looked at what foods were being advertised on programs watched by children and adolescents, they found that most products were larded with sugar, salt and fat.
“The overwhelming majority of food-product advertisements seen on television by American children are of poor nutritional content,” said the study, which is in the current issue of Pediatrics. It was led by Lisa M. Powell of the University of Illinois.
The researchers focused on advertisements seen by two groups, ages 2 to 11 and 12 to 17. To gauge viewership, the study looked at the shows’ popularity ratings.
The researchers considered more than 50,000 commercials seen by the younger group and more than 47,000 seen by the older one. The team found that 97.8 percent of the food advertised for the younger group was high in fat, sugar or sodium. The figure for the older group was 89.4 percent. Commercials for fast-food restaurants were not included.
The study noted a finding that in 2005 young people watched television an average of more than three hours a day. And it cited an Institute of Medicine report finding a link between television advertisements and weight.
The biggest segment of advertising for younger viewers was for cereals, most high in sugar. Older children were most likely to see commercials for sweets.