The average American child will see more than 40,000 television commercials every year, as well as product placements on TV and in other forms of media, according to background information in the article. Studies have shown that advertising influences children's preferences and requests beginning at a young age. "Since parents control family budgets, child requests are important forces for family spending and may negatively impact interactions between parents and children," the authors write.
Lisa J. Chamberlain, M.D., M.P.H., and colleagues at the Stanford University School of Medicine, Palo Alto, Calif., evaluated the connection between screen media exposure and requests for advertised products in a group of 827 third-graders at 12 elementary schools in Northern California. Children who enrolled in the study were interviewed on two weekdays during the fall of their third-grade year (September to October 1999), and again in the spring of third grade, the fall of fourth grade and the spring of fourth grade. They were asked how much time they spent watching television, watching movies or videos on a VCR and playing video games during one or two days of the previous week. They also reported whether, in the past week, they had asked someone to buy them food, drinks or toys they had seen on television. If they said yes, researchers had them write the names of up to four specific products.
Overall, children in the study logged more than 22 hours of total screen time per week, including more than 10 hours of TV. They reported making about one request each week for toys and more than one request every two weeks for food or drinks. Children who watched more TV and had more overall screen time requested advertised toys and food or drinks more often than those with less TV and screen time. For every extra hour per day that children watched television at the beginning of the study, they made on average one extra request for an advertised food or drink every six to 13 weeks at the end of the study, seven to 20 weeks later. Likewise, every extra hour of total screen time resulted in approximately one additional request for advertised food or drink every 13 to 24 weeks and one extra request for an advertised toy every 12 to 18 weeks.
The findings suggest that aiming to reduce television and total screen time could benefit children's health and help fight the current epidemic of obesity, the authors report. "Our study contributes support that reducing children's exposure to screen media may reduce their requests for advertised food and drinks, which are predominantly high in calories and low in nutritional density," they write.
"The current study does document that screen media exposure is a true prospective risk factor for subsequent consumeristic behavior, adding to the evidence supporting behavioral and policy interventions to reduce children's exposure to screen media and advertising, whether implemented at the individual family level, institutional level or the population level through legislation and changes in social norms," they conclude.
(Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2006;160:363-368. Available pre-embargo to the media at www.jamamedia.org.)
Editor's Note: This study was supported in part by a grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md.