Parents, TV and Junk Food: How Media Exposure Can Change Your Child's Eating Habits

When a child develops unhealthy eating habits, we're usually quick to blame the parents – or the media.

But a new study suggests that both parents and media are to blame – and that how parents watch TV can actually influence greater junk food consumption in their children.

How family characteristics predict behavior

University of Michigan researchers Kristen Harrison and Mericarmen Peralta interviewed more than 100 parents about a wide variety of lifestyle factors, including parent media exposure and child dietary intake. Then they interviewed children to determine how kids learned what types of foods are considered healthy or not. They found that commercial TV viewing, as opposed to commercial-free TV viewing (from digitally recorded programming) was related to more junk food consumption in the home.

They also found that the link between media and junk food was strong in "food-secure" people but weak in "food-insecure" people. The researchers note that since food security is associated with higher income, parents who have more money are more likely to indulge in the junk food they see on television, while food-insecure people have more limits set on what they can afford to eat. Children of food-secure parents ate more junk food and also had distorted views on what constitutes a healthy meal, researchers said.

Turn off the commercials

Even though food-secure adults tend to make more money, and therefore are statistically more likely to be educated about proper nutrition, the research suggests that parents are not immune to messages about junk food – and children are paying close attention.

"Children are still learning about food as it relates to health from family, media, and other sources, and may use this knowledge later on to inform their decisions when parents or other adults aren't there to supervise them," Harrison said in a press release.

The researchers will present their findings at the 63rd Annual International Communication Association conference in London.

Source: Science Daily

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