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TV Junk Food Ads Spur Kids' Obesity

Excerpt By Nic Rowan, Reuter's Health

CANBERRA (Reuters Health) - TV advertisements that aggressively market junk food to children contribute to the growing obesity epidemic and should be regulated, according to group made up of Australian physicians and researchers.

Australian children aged five to twelve watch an average of two and a half hours of television a day and much of that time is filled with advertisements for junk food, according to the Coalition on Food Advertising to Children in Australia.

The Coalition was formed to try to tighten regulations restricting such marketing and to encourage advertisements for healthy foods during peak viewing times, said Verity Newnham, national coordinator for the National Division's Youth Alliance, a program within the Australian Divisions of General Practice.

"The aggressive marketing of fast food and confectionery to children does influence their dietary choices early in life, and it puts them at greater risk of becoming obese or overweight in later life." she said. Excess weight puts youngsters at risk for diabetes and later health problems, such as heart attack and stroke.

"A major concern is childhood diabetes. [General practitioners] are seeing more children than ever before with type II diabetes, and that's a disease associated with poor diet and lack of exercise," said Newnham.

Members of the Coalition include the Australian Divisions of General Practice, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, the Public Health Association of Australia and a number of universities.

A study of 13 industrialized nations suggests that Australia has the highest number of food ads per hour during children's viewing times and youngsters can be easily influenced by these messages, Newnham said. Children under the age of eight are unable to distinguish between an advertisement and a television program, and therefore have difficulty separating fact from media suggestion.

"Children can be extremely vulnerable to television advertising promoting fast food," she said.

"It makes it even more difficult for parents to provide their children with fresh, healthy food. Children should be encouraged to eat a wide variety of fresh food and undertake regular physical activity," added Newnham.

She emphasized that foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt should only be eaten occasionally and not become part of children's regular diet. She also suggested that parents turn to their doctor for help on healthy diets.

The Coalition has met with Australia's Food and Grocery Council, and hopes to begin dialogue with other major industry representatives soon.

Reference Source 89


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