Kids love snacks and advertisers count on that to sell products. That’s why so many commercials on children’s TV shows promote snacks packed with sugar and salt. According to a new study, preschoolers who are exposed to these types of ads will eat more of those foods, even if they are not hungry.
The study, led by Jennifer Emond, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth College, in Hanover, New Hampshire, involved a small study of 60 children, 2 to 5 years old. Emond’s team monitored the kids as they watched a 14-minute segment of “Sesame Street.”
The preschoolers got a filling snack before the show, so they were not hungry, and then had unlimited access to snacks during it.
Some of the children watched the "Sesame Street" segment without food commercials, while others watched the show with commercials for a popular salty snack. The ads depicted kids happily playing and eating the snack.
While viewing the segment, the children were provided with two snacks: corn snacks and graham snacks. The same corn snacks provided were featured in the food advertisements shown to some of the children.
The researchers found that the preschoolers who watched the segment embedded with food ads consumed more calories in snacks on average than those who watched the department store ads.
Additionally, the children who watched the food ads ended up eating more of the advertised corn snack than the graham snack -- even if they had never eaten the corn snack before and, therefore, were not familiar with it.
"That was surprising because it demonstrated the powerful effect food advertising can have on priming potentially unhealthy eating behaviors at a young age," Emond said.
The results of this small study replicate the findings of other studies with older children.
About 40% of all food and beverage ads that children and teens see on television are for unhealthy snacks, according to a 2015 report by the University of Connecticut's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity (PDF).
"Parents should not shrug off food marketing. These ads really do influence children," said Marlene Schwartz, director for the center and a professor of human development and family studies at the University of Connecticut, who was not involved in the new study.
"If the ads were for healthy foods, that would be an asset to parents, but when the ads are for unhealthy foods, they make parents' job harder," she said.
Story sources: Jacqueline Howard, http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/21/health/food-ads-kids-preschool/