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TV confuses children about which foods are healthy, new study finds

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Despite -- or perhaps because of -- the barrage of information about food that they consume while watching television, kids are getting the wrong message about healthy eating.

A study has found that the more television kids watch, the more confused they are about which foods are -- and which aren't -- going to help them grow up strong and healthy.

Increased television viewing had, in fact, a double-negative effect on the children in the study. Regardless of their initial nutritional knowledge, the more television they watched, the less able they also were "to provide sound nutritional reasons for their food choices," said the author of the study, Kristen Harrison, a professor of speech communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Foods marketed as aiding weight-loss were particularly problematical for the kids in the study. They equated the words "diet" and "fat-free" with being nutritious.

"When they were presented with choices like Diet Coke vs. orange juice and fat-free ice cream vs. cottage cheese, they were more likely to pick the wrong answer -- the diet and fat-free foods -- than when they were presented with choices without these labels, for example, spinach vs. lettuce.

"The labels 'diet' and 'fat-free' suggest that these foods are good for them and make it harder for them to pick the 'right' answer," Harrison said, noting that the goal of the study was "to gauge children's understanding of which food would help them grow, not make them slimmer."

TV advertising intentionally blurs the lines between diet and nutritional -- in Harrison's words it "frames" diet foods by "equating weight-loss benefits with nutritional benefits." One TV ad for chocolate syrup, for example, runs the tagline, "as always, fat free."

"Child television viewers are bombarded with health claims in television advertising," Harrison said. "Given the plentitude of advertisements on television t
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Contact: Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor
andreal@uiuc.edu
217-333-2177
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
8-Jun-2005


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