For most parents, it can be a struggle to get your kids to choose healthier snacks over a junk food option. Parents go out of their way to ensure they are preparing healthy meals with fresh fruit and vegetable options, and will often have the fridge stocked with healthy snack options for when kids just need something quick. If you find yourself arguing with your child about their eating habits and their tendencies to grab junk food or soda instead of a healthier option, you may want to take a look at your child's screen time.
A new study has shown that kids who spend more than just a half hour a day online are twice as likely to ask for junk food options from their parents. The study, conducted by the University of Liverpool and Cancer Research UK looked at the link between the advertisment of snack foods online and on television and how that can affect a child's diet.
Researchers asked 2500 UK children between the ages of 7 and 11 as well as their parents questions about their eating habits and screen time. Homework was not included in screen time. The results were definitely eye opening. The study showed that the children who spent more than three hours online a day were more than four times more likely to spend their own money on junk food, including sugary drinks like soda, than children who spend less than half an hour online.
What's even more shocking is the children who spent more than three hours online were 79% more likely to be overweight than their peers who spent less than 30 minutes in front of a screen a day, with 53% of those children 'carrying excess weight.'
Emma Boyland, the lead researcher from the University of Liverpool involved in the study linked the exposure to ads and commercials for junk food targeted at kids as a possible reason for their unhealthy snack choices.
"Young children who spend more time on the internet and watching commercial TV are more likely to pester for, buy and eat unhealthy food and drinks," Boyland said.
"Parents are all too familiar with being nagged for sweets and fizzy drinks in the supermarket or corner shop. Our research shows that this behaviour can be linked to the amount of time children spend in front of a screen and as a result, the increased number of enticing adverts they see for these sorts of products," she reiterated.
What may be surprising is that exercise didn't have an impact on this study and that the excess weight was not a result of being sedentary, but more often due to poor food choices.
Dr Jyotsna Vohra, from Cancer Research UK head of cancer policy research, blamed much of the issues on children being exposed to advertising of the junk food. “Obesity is the biggest preventable cause of cancer in the UK after smoking so it’s vital we see a 9pm watershed on junk food adverts on TV and similar protection for children viewing adverts on-demand and online," Vohra said.
“The evidence suggests that time spent online, where advertising can be prolific, and watching commercial TV increases the likelihood that children will pester for, buy and eat more unhealthy foods. If they didn’t then the food industry wouldn’t spend so much on advertising.”
While you won't be able to always limit the advertisements your children see online, you can limit their screen time and educate them more on the important of making healthy choices when it comes to their diet.