TV Food Advertising Increases Snacking and Potential Weight Gain in Children and Adults

Food advertising on television increases automatic snacking on available foods in children and adults, according to a series of experimental studies conducted by researchers from Yale University. The research appears in the July issue of the journal Health Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association.

In one experiment, seven- to 11-year-old children who watched a cartoon that included food commercials ate 45 percent more snack food while watching the show than children who watched the same cartoon with non-food commercials.

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, unless mitigated by reduced consumption of other foods or increased physical activity.

In a second experiment, the researchers found that adult participants exposed to unhealthy food advertisements in TV programming also ate significantly more than those who saw ads with a nutrition or healthy food message. Additionally, these effects persisted after the television viewing.

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,” 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.”

In addition to Harris, the Yale team of researchers included John A. Bargh and Kelly D. Brownell. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale.

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