Greater Health Risks for Kids Exposed to Sugary Cereal TV Ads, Study Finds

It's the first study of its kind.

Greater Health Risks for Kids Exposed to Sugary Cereal TV Ads, Study Finds
Credit: iStock/tatyana_tomsickova

Sugar-sweetened cereals aimed at children through television ads may lead to an increased risk of poor eating habits, finds a new study.

The research “Exposure to Child-Directed TV Advertising and Preschoolers’ Intake of Advertised Cereals” published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, looked at children’s ad exposure for cereal and their actual consumption habits.

“We found that kids who were exposed to TV ads for high-sugar cereals aired in the programs they watched were more likely to subsequently eat the cereals they had seen advertised,” says lead researcher Jennifer Emond, PhD, member of the Cancer Control research program at Dartmouth’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center and Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedical Data Science Geisel School of Medicine “Our models accounted for several child, parent and household characteristics, and whether the child ate each cereal before the study started. We were able to isolate the effect of cereal advertisement exposure on kids’ intake of cereals, independent of all of those other factors.” 

It’s the first study of its kind to compare ad exposure to cereal consumption.

“Brands specifically target children in their advertising knowing that children will ask their parents for those products,” Edmond noted. “We conducted the first longitudinal study among preschool-age children to see how exposure to TV ads for high-sugar cereals influences kids’ subsequent intake of those advertised cereals. An important and novel aspect of our study is that we were able to look at brand-specific effects. In other words, does advertising for ‘Brand X’ cereal relate to an increased intake of ‘Brand X’ cereal?”

“Efforts to promote and support quality diets at a young age are important to foster the lifestyle behaviors needed to maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of chronic disease including many cancers,” notes Emond. “Child-targeted marketing of foods high in sugar makes it hard for parents to shape healthy eating habits in our kids. It’s hard to even notice sometimes. But, it is modifiable. There are policy-level actions that could be implemented to reduce children’s exposure to food marketing and to improve the quality of the foods marketed to kids. And we as parents have the choice to switch to ad-free TV for our children and for ourselves.”

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