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TV ads may spur snacking in kids as young as two

In an experiment with 60 kids, researchers focused on how advertising influences what’s known as eating in the absence of hunger.

Picture: Freeimages.

NEW YORK - Mindless snacking in front of the television set may start long before children know how to work the remote control, a US study suggests.

In an experiment with 60 kids aged 2 to 5 years, researchers focused on how advertising influences what’s known as eating in the absence of hunger.

They gave all the children a healthy snack to make sure they had a full belly, and then sat the kids down to watch a TV programme with ads for Bugles corn chips or for a department store.

All of the kids had Bugles corn chips and one other snack in front of them while they watched the show. Children who saw ads for the corn chips ate 127 calories on average, compared to just 97 calories for kids who didn’t see Bugles on the screen, researchers report in Pediatrics.

“This is the first study to show that exposure to food ads cues immediate eating among younger children - even after they had a filling snack,” said lead study author Jennifer Emond of Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

“Young children average up to three hours of TV viewing a day,” Emond added by email. “If kids are exposed to food ads during that time, they may unconsciously overconsume snacks which can lead to extra weight gain.”

More than one third of US children are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends against any screen time for children younger than 18 months and suggests no more than an hour a day for kids aged 2 to 5 in part to encourage language development, support healthy sleep habits and limit sedentary activity that can set preschoolers on a path toward obesity.

The type of TV programme matters too. The AAP encourages educational programming like “Sesame Street” that can support language learning.

For the experiment, researchers sat kids down to watch a 14-minute segment of _Elmo’s World _that included three minutes of advertising.

Before the show started, all of the kids could snack as much as they liked on banana, sliced cheese and crackers. They also got water to drink.