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Watching commercial TV can induce junk food cravings for teens

A new study from the UK shows just how influential junk food commercials are on teenagers.

Teens who regularly watch more than three hours of commercial TV a day are more likely to eat hundreds more junk food snacks per year than those who don’t watch TV or watch TV without commercial breaks.

The report was conducted by Cancer Research UK and is the largest study of its kind examining the impact of commercial TV on diet and food preferences.

The researchers based their results on a YouGov survey that included responses from 3,348 people in the UK ages 11 through 19. 

Among those surveyed, the teens who regularly streamed TV with commercials were 139 percent more likely drink sugary carbonated beverages and 65 percent more likely to eat pre-packaged, frozen dinners than those who don’t watch as much TV.

The researchers also found that watching TV without commercials had no impact on junk food preferences.

These results are especially concerning because high-calorie junk food increases the risk of obesity, and obesity in the UK is the second most preventable cause of cancer after smoking.

“This is the strongest evidence yet that junk food adverts could increase how much teens choose to eat,” said Dr.  Jyotsna Vohra, a lead author on the study. “We’re not claiming that every teenager who watches commercial TV will gorge on junk food, but this research suggests there is a strong association between advertisements and eating habits.”

One of the problems, according to Dr. Vohra, is the lack of regulations on TV junk food marketing. Vohra suggests limiting exposure to junk food commercials and removing them from programming with a largely younger demographic.

Limiting exposure could help teenagers who would normally binge on snacks while watching TV cut back on calories and help reduce the risk of obesity.

“Obese children are five times more likely to remain obese as adults which can increase their risk of cancer later in life,” said Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert. “The food industry will continue to push their products into the minds of teens if they’re allowed to do so. The Government needs to work with Ofcom [the UK’s Office of Communications] to protect the health of the next generation.”

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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