Childhood Obesity Fueled by Spanish-Language TV Ads

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Does your family watch Spanish-language TV?


If so, take note: It’s bombarding children with so many fast-food commercials that it may be fueling the rising obesity epidemic among Latino youth, according to pediatric researchers at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. Latino children, who make up one-fifth of the U.S. child population, have the highest obesity and overweight rates of all ethnic groups.

“While we cannot blame overweight and obesity solely on TV commercials, there is solid evidence that children exposed to such messages tend to have unhealthy diets and to be overweight,” says lead investigator Darcy Thompson, MD, MPH, a Hopkins pediatrician. Past research among English-speaking children shows TV ads influence food preferences, particularly among more impressionable young viewers.

Researchers reviewed 60 hours of programming airing between 3 and 9 p.m. (heavy viewing hours for school-age children) on Univision and Telemundo. These are the two largest Spanish-language channels in the United States, reaching 99% and 93% of U.S. Latino households, respectively. Tallying two or three food commercials per hour, the investigators noted that one-third specifically targeted children. Nearly half of all food commercials featured fast food, and more than half of all drink commercials promoted soda and drinks with high sugar content.

The researchers suggest young children should be restricted to two hours a day or less of TV viewing, and parents should talk to them about healthy diet and food choices. Children younger than 2 should not be allowed to watch any TV, pediatricians advise.

In addition, public-health officials should urge policymakers to limit food advertising to children—something many European countries are already doing, they say.

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