Studies show TV ads impact childhood obesity gene

obesityA new study has found that a genetic trait related to obesity may in fact make children more susceptible to unhealthy food commercials. Dartmouth College in the United States conducted research using brain scans, discovering that children who were genetically at risk of obesity had larger activity in their reward centres during such advertisements. Although much research has been carried out regarding this subject in the past, new findings are based on televised commercials rather than still images.

78 children aged between 9-12 were asked to watch a children’s TV show whilst in an MRI scanner. Such shows included 12 minutes of commercials, half of which were based on fast-food, while the other half focused on non-edible items. Findings showed that children who had a genetic predisposition to obesity demonstrated a larger craving response to food commercials compared to children who were not at risk of obesity. Despite many large food companies aiming to advertise healthy meal options as opposed to the junk-food alternatives, it is still more often than not popular takeaway options like burgers and pizzas that are shown on TV.

With childhood obesity levels in America having almost tripled over the last 25 years, with around 20% of the country’s youth now labelled as overweight, the effect of junk food commercials on kids has never been more scrutinised. Modern-day children now consume numerous types of media and spend more time in front of either their television, computer or video game screens than ever before. With previous research finding a strong association between an increase in media advertisement of non-healthy foods and levels of childhood obesity, it comes as little surprise that people have called for companies to clean up their image and stop marketing unhealthy foods to children through the media.

However, research into the LiveWell campaign has found that many chain restaurants have failed to improve upon the nutritional quality of their menus as promised. No significant reductions in calories, saturated fat or sodium were found, with sugar based drinks continuing to make up around 80% of beverages available on a kid’s menu. With even nationwide initiatives seemingly having little impact upon obesity levels, it remains to be seen as to what, if anything, these restaurants will do to take responsibility for the problem and improve such figures.

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