Health Benefits of a Critical Attitude Toward TV Ads
Many people worry about the downsides of children’s media exposure. A study in the Journal of Obesity, however, shows that children (6-9 years) who watch a lot of TV and advertising do not necessarily have poorer knowledge about food (what’s healthy of not) or less healthy food preferences and diets. Also, knowledge about food does not seem to affect the food preferences and diet of children in this age group. Interestingly, having a critical attitude toward TV ads plays a more important role: children with more critical attitudes have healthier food preferences, better developed knowledge about food and also adopt a more healthy diet.
- Children who watch a lot of TV and advertising do not necessarily have poorer knowledge about food (what’s healthy of not) or less healthy food preferences and diets.
- Children’s knowledge about food is not related to their food preferences and diet.
- Advertising literacy (in terms of having a critical attitude towards advertising) positively affects children’s food preferences, knowledge and diet.
- For health practitioners it’s good to know that knowledge about food alone does not help kids in having healthier food preferences or making healthier food choices. Effort should be put in making children less susceptible to TV ads by learning them to be more critical about and aware of the commercial intentions of those ads.
Does exposure to TV and advertising affect children’s food knowledge, preferences, weight, and diet? And does knowledge about food and advertising has any influence on their food preferences, weight, and diet?
229 elementary school children aged between 6 and 9 years old from five European countries (mean age: 7 years old; 47% were boys). The sample was selected from the IDEFICS study, a large-scale pan-European intervention study on childhood obesity.
Belgium, Estonia, Germany, Italy, and Spain (Europe)
Via a questionnaire, children were asked for their exposure to TV (and thus advertising) (i.e., weekly TV viewing time, TV available in bedroom) and their attitude towards advertising, which consisted of three parts: (1) their perception of TV ads as a useful source of information (credibility), (2) their questioning of commercial messages (suspiciousness), and (3) their level of fun when watching commercials (entertainment). Children’s food knowledge and food preferences were gathered via a task in which children saw 10 pairs of food cards. Each pair showed products from the same food category, but one was a healthy product and one a less healthy product (for instance water versus coke). To measure their food preferences, they were asked which food or drink they liked the best. To measure their food knowledge, they were asked which food or drink they thought was the healthier one. Children’s diet (e.g., healthfulness of their diet, sugar and fat intake), and their weight-status were assessed as well.
Facts and findings
- TV exposure was not related to children’s food knowledge, preferences, and diet.
- This means that children who watch more TV (and advertising) do not have poorer food knowledge or less healthy food preferences and diets.
- Food knowledge was not related to children’s food preferences, diet and weight status; this indicates that better food knowledge does not necessarily mean healthier food preferences, diet and weight.
- Children’s attitude towards advertising did relate to their food preferences, knowledge and diet:
- those who did not perceive TV ads as a useful source of information (credibility), showed healthier food preferences, a more healthful diet, and less sugar intake in their diet;
- those who did not perceive watching commercials as something fun (entertainment), showed more knowledge about food, however, unexpectedly a less healthful diet.
- Although findings regarding children’s attitude towards advertising are somewhat mixed, it does shine light on the positive influence of children’s ‘advertising literacy’ on their food preferences, knowledge and diet.
- Remarkable fact: Estonian and Spanish children showed a healthier diet, and less sugar intake than children from the other countries (Belgium, Germany, and Italy). Italian and Spanish children on the other hand showed the lowest fat intake, and although Belgian children showed relatively high sugar and fat intake, they were the thinnest in the sample (lowest BMI, waist, and fat mass).
- Critical note: Children’s exposure to media and advertising was measured through access to a TV in the bedroom and TV consumption time. Although it’s likely that this says something about their exposure to advertising as well, it remains unknown whether this was actually the case.
- Critical note: This study does not allow for any conclusions about cause (exposure to media and advertising and attitude towards advertising) and effect (food knowledge, preferences, diets and weight). The results only show that some are associated with children’s food knowledge and preferences and cannot say anything about what causes what.