According to a new study released on Friday, junk food commercials constitute an average of two-thirds of television food advertisements shown during hours children are most likely to be watching.
At the top of the list were Germany and the United States, whose junk food commercials made up some 90 percent of their televised food ads. At the bottom were Britain and Australia with roughly 50 percent.
Researchers say they are urging government action to curb the amount of television marketing of this sort in an effort to combat youth obesity.
“Internationally, children are exposed to high volumes of unhealthy food and beverage advertising on television,” the research group told the European Congress on Obesity in Amsterdam.
“Limiting this food marketing is an important preventative strategy for childhood obesity.”
Worldwide, the International Obesity Task Force estimates that some 177 million children and teens under the age of 18 are overweight or obese. Of these, they say, roughly 22 million are overweight children under the age of five.
Among the many risks associated with diabetes, one of the most frequent amongst children is the rapidly growing rate of type 2 diabetes, or non-inherited diabetes. The expensive treatments associated with diabetes have many governments concerned that their already tightly-budgeted national health systems could be stretched beyond their limits.
The increase in sedentary lifestyles, including hours a day sitting in front of computers or television, has also been identified as a joint factor contributing to skyrocketing obesity rates throughout the western world.
“There is a lot of attention on unhealthy food marketing as an influence on childhood obesity and a lot of governments are reluctant to regulate,” said Bridget Kelly a nutrition researcher for the Cancer Council NSW in Australia and co-author of the study. “So most countries in the study don’t have regulations on food advertising.”
The study examined television programming trends in Australia, Asia, Eastern and Western Europe and North and South America. They observed that the number of advertisements for fast food, sweets and high-fat snacks significantly increased during the times when youths were most likely to be tuned in.
“Children see around 4,000 to 6,000 food advertisements on television a year and between 2,000 and 4,000 are for unhealthy foods,” explained Kelley in an interview. “So even if you are in countries that are advertising less to children, that is still a lot.”
Researchers concede, however, that it is difficult to establish a direct causal connection between junk food advertisements and obesity. Still, they argue that television marketing is a significant factor in shaping what kind of foods children prefer.
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