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Raising Fit Kids: Healthy Nurtition, Exercise, and Weight

  This content is selected and controlled by WebMD's editorial staff in collaboration with Sanford Health Systems.

It's Saturday morning. Do you know who's telling your child what to eat? If your children watch Saturday morning TV, you can bet that they're being bombarded with commercials advertising food of little nutritional value.

According to a recent report, the fast food industry is increasingly targeting its marketing toward children -- with kids seeing ads when they're as young as 2 years old. Children now see about 1/3 more fast food TV ads than they did just six to seven years ago, while preschoolers see 21% more.

That doesn't include advertising for the packaged foods your kids beg you to buy at the grocery store. And if your kids watch movies or spend lots of time online, experts say they'll see even more food marketing, thanks to ads and product placements.

But how much influence does food marketing have on your preschooler, grade-schooler, teen, or even you? A recent study showed that after viewing snack food advertisements, children and adults were more likely to eat more, regardless of reported hunger. Seeing the commercials trained them, in a way, to want the food.

In spite of these outside pressures, you, as a parent, can take control now and teach your kids to recognize and resist junk and fast food marketing. Here's how.

Put Limits on Food Marketing to Kids by Cutting Screen Time

Set a limit for total daily screen time, including television and Internet. This will automatically reduce the number of commercials your kids see, says Mindy Greenfield, a certified family life educator at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, S.D.

She agrees with the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation: Discourage screen time for children under 2 years old and allow no more than two hours a day for older children. Another way to limit kids' exposure to food marketing is to use a DVR to record programs, Greenfield says. Then just show them how to fast-forward through the commercials.

Be Involved, Lay Down the Law Around Food Marketing

Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, suggests watching commercials with your kids. Nestle is the author of What to Eat and Food Politics and is the Paulette Goddard professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University.

According to Nestle, no matter how mouth-watering the junk food looks, you can say, "We only serve healthy foods at home." Let kids know that when they are adults, they can choose what to eat, she says. But right now, you call the shots.

Sometimes it surprises parents to realize they have control. And, Nestle says, they need to exert it if they hope to get their kids to eat healthy foods. That doesn't mean you have to be too strict. For example, she says it is OK to have a birthday party at a fast-food outlet or to declare Sunday the day to have a can of soda.

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