*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on U.S. News & World Report.
The largest study of its kind found teens who were exposed to more junk food advertising consumed more unhealthy foods every week.
According to the largest study of its kind, people aged 11 to 19 who watched one extra advertisement per week about junk food, over the average of six, ate an additional 350 calories in foods high in salt, sugar and fat every week, adding up to 18,000 extra calories per year.
The study of 3,300 teens, titled Familiarity With Junk-Food Ads Linked with Obesity in Young People, was conducted by Cancer Research UK and is being presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Vienna from May 23 to 26. According to a press release, it is “the first to look at online TV viewing in such a systematic fashion, and adds to the growing evidence that TV and streaming adverts can influence young people’s unhealthy diet.”
Jyotsna Vohra, head of the Policy Research Centre for Cancer Prevention at Cancer Research UK, led the research. She said in the release that the key takeaway from the research is “junk food marketing is associated with obesity in young people of all ages, and we know that obesity is linked to at least 13 types of cancer.”
In the United States, almost 38 percent of adults are obese and about 18.5 percent of kids under 19 years old are obese. Obesity leads to heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, bone and joint problems and asthma.
Obesity has many complex causes, but previous research has shown links between junk and fast food advertising and rates of childhood obesity, according to the study. Consuming high-calorie drinks and foods, which are usually high in fats as well as salt and sugars, greatly increases a child’s chances of becoming overweight or obese.
The average teen watches 21 hours of television with advertisements per week, with a little more than half viewed on streaming services, the study found. However, obese teens watched significantly more television — approximately 26 hours, which is the equivalent to one extra advertisement per week.
The participants reported eating about 30 foods containing high levels of fats, sugars and salt per week, compared to only 16 portions of fruits or vegetables.
All the teens were able to remember a junk food or fast food advertisement they saw while watching TV, and 80 percent of the brands they were able to recall had at least one fast food product as their top product. Researchers also said that those from what they described as a “more deprived background” were more likely to recall such advertisements.
Researchers found that an increased sense of familiarity with the advertising was linked to an increase in consumption of the junk and fast foods, which led to higher weight, regardless of age and gender.
“The food industry wouldn’t pump hundreds of millions into advertising their products by creating catchy adverts if it didn’t get people to eat more,” the authors said. “With today’s teens spending more time in front of screens than any other activity apart from sleeping, curbing exposure to junk food ads on streaming platforms as well as TV will be key to helping teens make healthy diet choices and reducing obesity rates.”
Source: U.S. News & World Report