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Study: TV Ads Promote Unhealthy Diets

Researchers Say Basing Food Choices on Ads Results in High-Sugar and High-Fat Diets

Don’t Shoot the Messenger

Gilbert Ross, MD, medical director of the American Council on Science and Health in New York, says the blame should not be placed on advertisers.

"The marketers are encouraging the viewers to purchase what they want to eat," he says. "The fact that there are more ads for ... disfavored foods should not be construed as the overarching reason why such foods are purchased and consumed by the public," he says. "It's because these foods are tasty and delicious."

Ross does think that public education about healthful food choices is a good idea.

But "why should the food companies do it?" he asks. "Why not have those public service announcements be put out by the government, and/or the medical and nutritional societies?"

Unhealthy Eating Habits

Scott Kahan, MD, MPH, co-director of George Washington University Weight Management Program in Washington, D.C., says these TV ads do have a role in promoting unhealthy eating habits, and ultimately, obesity.

"If you turn on the TV especially when kids are watching, there is anywhere from 50 to 100 to thousands of commercials for unhealthy foods. And you almost never see promotions for healthy foods," he says. "You can't turn on the TV without having all this yummy stuff thrown at you that is cheaper and far more available than healthy foods."

"We know it's a big medical issue to be overweight, particularly in kids. But we are only starting to get to point where we are making societal investments in creating a healthy environment," he says.

Changes are needed on many fronts, he says.

"Corporate responsibility and government regulation and legislation plays a role, as does aggressive education in schools, households, and on TV with public service announcements," Mink says.

These efforts may help combat or counteract some of the negative effects of aggressively advertising unhealthy foods on TV, he says.

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