TV Food Ads Misleading Kids

In study, youngsters typically identified less-healthy snacks as 'nutritious'

FRIDAY, June 17, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- The more food commercials young kids see on television, the more confused they are about which foods are healthy, a new study finds.

Foods advertised as being "fat-free" or "diet" were a particular problem for the children, who tended to believe such foods were nutritious.

"When they were presented with choices like Diet Coke versus orange juice and fat-free ice cream versus cottage cheese, they were more likely to pick the wrong answer -- the diet and fat-free foods -- than when they were presented with choices without these labels, for example, spinach versus lettuce," researcher Kristen Harrison, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said in a prepared statement.

"The labels 'diet' and 'fat-free' suggest that these foods are good for them and make it harder for them to pick the 'right' answer," she said.

Her study of 134 children in first, second and third grade found that, regardless of their initial nutritional knowledge, the more television they watched, the less able they were "to provide sound nutritional reasons for their food choices," according to Harrison.

The Illinois expert believes televised food ads deliberately blur the distinction between diet foods and good nutrition. She pointed to previous studies that found that 97.5 percent of food commercials broadcast during weekend morning television are for foods high in sugar, fat, salt and cholesterol.

"Child television viewers are bombarded with health claims in television advertising. Given the plentitude of advertisements on television touting the health benefits of even the most nutritionally bankrupt of foods, child viewers are likely to become confused about which foods are in fact healthy," she said.

The study appears in the journal Health Communication.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about healthy child nutrition.

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