Children, television and nutrition; how are these three seemingly separate things linked? Research indicates that advertising on television has the power to influence the long-term relationship children have with nutrition. It does this by influencing their taste preferences and promoting unhealthy food.
One of the ways television influences a child’s relationship with nutrition is through influencing their food preferences. The development of these preferences plays an important role in future diet – whether this diet is healthy or unhealthy.
Young children learn about what foods they like by exposure. The greater variety of food they’re exposed to at a young age, the less likely they are to become picky eaters. This also means the food available in their home when children are growing up greatly influences the food they like as adults. This means that parents have a crucial role in determining these preferences.
Observation and exposure influences taste preferences for children, while nutrition is often a secondary factor in determining the food they choose to eat. Children develop preferences by age two or three and those preferences remain stable throughout their childhood and often their lives.
So what do developing taste preferences have to do with television? Well, children learn about the world through observing adults, their peers, and the media. While adults and peers may have a positive influence on a child’s nutritional choices, the media often does not.
According to a 2007 study, food advertisements are among the most common type of advertisement that appears on television networks most watched by children. In addition to this, 98% of advertised foods are of low nutritional value. With those statistics, it’s no wonder that there is a strong association between TV viewing and unhealthy eating in children. Television commercials and some programming teach children that foods that are high in fats, sugars, and salt are the most rewarding to eat.
On the bright side, ads do prompt children to try new foods. Those that saw an ad for food before trying it were more likely to enjoy the food rather than those children who tried the food before seeing the ad. Of course, when advertisements focus on unhealthy foods, this is more likely to have a negative long-term impact.
Another interesting thing about ads is a child’s association to brands and perceived taste. A 2007 study showed that preschoolers enjoyed food that was presented in a McDonald’s branded bag more than the same food presented in a plain paper bag.
To add insult to injury, unhealthy snacking while watching television is very common.
So what do you do as a parent?
Well first, communicate with your child! Talking about nutrition with your child helps them understand food choices they should make. Don’t just stop there; discuss media with your children. Watch television with them and ask them questions about ads they see, promote critical thinking and scepticism towards ads that may be promoting a negative attitude towards food. When you teach children to interpret ads and think critically about them from a young age, they are less likely to feel a negative impact from ads.
Often, reducing their television time or choosing programming that has positive messages about nutrition can help them develop healthy attitudes toward food. Reducing screen time also has other benefits – like more active children.
You can also have healthy options available. When you eat healthy food yourself and have it available for your children then you influence their habits in the future. Households that had plenty of fruits and vegetables available for children growing up influenced positive attitudes toward fruits and vegetables reached adulthood.
At Childventures, we make sure your children have healthy options throughout the day. We also teach them about Canada’s Food Guide and how to make healthy and nutritious choices through our Nutrition Program.