It’s not uncommon for teens to binge-watch their favorite TV shows after a long day at school. But new research shows that all that time staring at TV ads could be doing even more harm than we thought. According to a report by Cancer Research UK, the junk food advertisements that often play on commercial television can influence teens to eat hundreds more junk food snacks than their non-TV-watching peers.
Teens whose afternoons are assailed by advertisements for high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and drinks could be influenced to eat 500 extra junk food snacks over the course of a single year. Research showed that TV sessions of three hours or more proved most influential over teens’ dietary habits. After watching that much TV, teens reportedly ate more chips, cookies, sodas, and “takeaways,” the British term for take-out or delivery meals such as fast food and pizza.
When teens watched the same amount of TV but with the junk food ads removed, their snacking was unaffected.
“This is the strongest evidence yet that junk food adverts could increase how much teens choose to eat,” said Dr. Jyotsna Vohra, lead author of the study. “We’re not claiming that every teenager who watches commercial TV will gorge on junk food but this research suggests there is a strong association between advertisements and eating habits.” TV ads for junk food often feature slang, references to current trends, fun character plots, and other manipulative tactics geared towards teens.
While junk food brands themselves are likely thrilled at the efficacy of their advertising, health officials are concerned. Regular consumption of sodas, candies, and other junk food in replacement of other nutritious snacks has been linked to serious health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and even behavioral abnormalities.
The researchers believe that the correlation should influence Ofcom, the United Kingdom’s government-approved regulatory organization for communications and media, to impose new limitations on the advertisements teens are seeing on TV.
“Ofcom must stop junk food adverts being shown during programs that are popular with young people,” insisted Dr. Vohra, “such as talent shows and football matches, where there’s currently no regulation.”
If you’re wondering what snacks these scientists are so worried about, they’re likely against frequent consumption of items like these — the 8 unhealthiest snacks in the junk food aisle.