TV Commercials Confuse Kids About Nutrition
Commercials Send Mixed Messages to Children About What Foods Are Healthy
WebMD News Archive
June 10, 2005 -- Television may be making it harder for kids to understand
what's healthy and what's not when it comes to their diet.
A new study shows that children equate terms like "diet" and
"fat free" with healthy because TV commercials equate weight loss
benefits to nutritional benefits.
But what's good for helping an adult lose weight won't necessarily meet the
nutritional needs of growing children.
"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," says
researcher Kristen Harrison, a professor of speech communication at the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in a news release.
"We know that many American children are consuming too much fat and too
many calories, but replacing the nutrient-dense foods in their diets with
low-fat, low-calorie items like rice cakes and diet soda does them a disservice
by depriving their bodies of the whole-food nutrients needed for growth,"
TV Confuses Kids' Food Choices
In the study, researchers tried to measure children's understanding of which
foods would help them grow by providing valuable nutrients rather than make
them slimmer. The results appear in a recent issue of Health
More than 100 children in the first through third grade answered a
questionnaire that assessed their nutritional knowledge, nutritional reasoning
and television viewing. They completed the questionnaire once at the start of
the study and again six weeks later.
To measure their nutritional knowledge, the children were asked to choose
which item in six different pairs of foods was better for helping them
"grow up strong and healthy." One food in each pair was more
"nutritionally dense" than the other.
The study showed that the more television the children watched, the more
confused they were about which foods are and aren't going to help them grow up
strong and healthy.
"When they were presented with choices like Diet Coke vs. orange juice
and fat-free ice cream vs. 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 vs. lettuce," says
Researchers also found that the more TV the children watched, the less
likely they were to provide sound nutritional reasons, such as "More juicy,
has vitamins (referring to celery). Instead, they were more likely to give
reasons like, "It won't make you fat (referring to fat-free ice
cream)," or "It's diet" (referring to Diet Coke).
Overall, the study showed that the children displayed "moderate"
nutritional knowledge and scored an average of about 4 out of 6 on the