TV Time Replaces Fruit & Vegetables

Medical Author: Frederick Hecht, M.D.
Medical Editor: Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.

Dec. 9, 2003 -- As the hours in front of the TV go up, the intake of fruit and vegetables go down for kids, according to a new research study published in the journal Pediatrics.

The study was done by Renee Boynton-Jarrett and her colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. The following is a summary of the research and is based on the original report in Pediatrics.

Background to Study: National data indicate that children and youth in the US do not meet the current objectives for fruit and vegetable intake. Television viewing is hypothesized as a possible contributing factor because of its role in encouraging the consumption of foods that may lead to the replacement of fruits and vegetables.

Methods & Results: A sample of 548 ethnically diverse students (average age: 11.7 years) from public schools in Massachusetts were studied over a 19-month period. The relationship was studied between the hours of television and video viewing per day and the intake of fruits and vegetables. For each additional hour of television viewed per day, fruit and vegetable servings per day decreased by 14%. 

Conclusions of Study: "Television viewing is inversely associated with intake of fruit and vegetables among adolescents. These associations may be a result of the replacement of fruits and vegetables in youths' diets by foods highly advertised on television."

Perspective: The average American child sees 10,000 food ads a year on TV. Most of those ads are for fast food, cereal, soft drinks and candy, and other foods high in fat and calories. Marketing experts say the food industry spends billions of dollars marketing food to children, and every year it spends more.

Paul Kurnit, an advertising executive who specializes in marketing to children, has admitted: "You are absolutely correct that I am not going to get the same return on investment for a client in advertising asparagus and spinach to a kid as advertising some of the so-called less healthy products to kids." (From an ABC special report with Peter Jennings last night on "Obesity in America: How to Get Fat Without Really Trying").

Our Comments: The US government responded to the toll that smoking was taking on American health by a number of courageous steps such as banning cigarette ads aimed at kids. When will the government show similar courage in changing its food subsidy policy and hands-off approach to the processed food and advertising industries? We accuse the US government, both Congress and the Administration, of knowing complicity and hypocrisy in the growing problem of obesity in America.

Reference: Impact of Television Viewing Patterns on Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Among Adolescents. By Renee Boynton-Jarrett,Tracy N. Thomas, Karen E. Peterson, Jean Wiecha, Arthur M. Sobol, and Steven L. Gortmaker. Published in the journal Pediatrics Vol. 112 No. 6 December 2003, pp. 1321-1326.

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