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Nov 01, 2015 10:59 PM EST

Fast Food TV Ads May Be Making Your Kids Fat

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New research suggests that the use of toy premiums in fast food TV advertising for children's meals prompt children to request eating at fast food restaurants.

Researchers from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth found that the more children watched television channels that aired ads for children's fast food meals, the more frequently their families visited those fast food restaurants, NYC Today reported.

Using a database they compiled of all fast food TV ads that aired nationally in 2009, researchers found that only two nationally-recognized fast food chains engaged in child-directed TV advertising at that time.

According to researcher Jennifer Emond, "Seventy-nine percent of the child-directed ads from those two restaurants aired on just four children's networks."

For the study, Emond and her colleagues collected and analyzed data from 100 children between the ages of 3 and 7 and one parent for each child, The Daily Times Gazette reported. The parents completed a survey that included questions about how often their children watched each of the four children's networks, if their children requested visits to the two restaurants, if their children collected toys from those restaurants, and how often the family visited those restaurants.

Researchers found that 37 percent of parents reported more frequent visits to the two fast food restaurants with child-directed TV ads. Fifty-four percent of the children requested visits to at least one of the restaurants.

Of the 29 percent of children who collected toys from the restaurants, almost 83 percent requested to visit one or both of the restaurants. Some factors associated with more frequent visits were more TVs in the home, a TV in the child's bedroom, more time spent watching TV during the day, and more time spent watching one of the four children's networks airing the majority of child-directed ads.

Despite the small numbers of enrolled families, this study shows that the more frequently a child views child-directed fast food TV ads, often involving a toy, the more likely the family visited the fast food restaurant that was featured in the advertising. They also show that children's food preferences may be partially shaped by a desire for the toys featured in TV ads.

"For now, our best advice to parents is to switch their child to commercial-free TV programming to help avoid pestering for foods seen in commercials," Emond said.

The findings are detailed in the Journal of Pediatrics.

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