Nearly 16% of U.S. teens were overweight in 2000, and numerous studies have linked tube time to an adolescent's risk of carrying excess body fat. According to a recent study from researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and Children's Hospital in Boston, the more TV teens watch, the more ads they see for fast food, the more they eat high-calorie, high-fat food — and the more pounds they gain.
In fall 1995, 548 6th- and 7th-grade students in five Boston public schools reported how much time they spent watching TV or playing video games, how much time they spent exercising, and the types and amounts of food they ate. They noted how often they drank or ate foods commonly advertised on TV, including:
- soda or other sugar-sweetened beverages
- salty snacks (such as crackers, chips, and pretzels)
- french fries
- sweet snacks (such as cookies, brownies, pie, and cake)
- candy (including chocolate and non-chocolate candy)
- fast food (such as fried chicken, burgers, pizza, and chicken nuggets)
Over a year later, the teens answered the same questions so researchers could track how their behaviors changed over time.
By the second survey, about 15% of the teens in the study watched an hour more of TV a day than they did at the start of the study, and over a quarter of teens had increased their TV watching by up to an hour. Overall, teens who increased the amount of TV they watched tended to take in more calories. For every additional hour of TV teens watched, they tended to eat 167 calories of foods commonly advertised on TV. Some teens took in about five servings of foods commonly advertised on TV each day — the equivalent of about 35 servings of these non-nutritious foods each week.
What This Means to You. Food manufacturers spend large percentages of their advertising budgets on TV ads in an attempt to lure consumers into purchasing their products, and children and teens who are exposed to a steady diet of this TV advertising are at increased risk of consuming extra calories that may contribute to weight gain. You can do your child's waistline a favor and put limits on both the amount of TV your child watches and the candy, snacks, and fast food he or she is allowed to eat at home and at school. If you have concerns about your child's nutrition or weight, talk to your child's doctor for advice and guidance.
Source: Jean L. Wiecha, PhD; Karen E. Peterson, ScD, RD; David S. Ludwig, MD, PhD; Juhee Kim, ScD; Arthur Sobol, MA; Steven L. Gortmaker, PhD; Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, April 2006.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date Reviewed: April 2006