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Fast Food Ads Fueling Obesity Among Hispanic Kids

Study found overload of commercials aimed at children on Spanish-language stations

THURSDAY, Feb. 21 (HealthDay News) -- The large number of fast food commercials on Spanish-language television in the United States may be contributing to the obesity epidemic among Hispanic youths, new research suggests.

Among American children, Hispanics have the highest rates of overweight and obesity.

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Children's Center reviewed 60 hours of programming airing between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. (heavy viewing hours for school-age children) on Univision and Telemundo, the two largest Spanish-language channels in the United States. The stations reach 99 percent and 93 percent of U.S. Hispanics, respectively.

The stations averaged two to three food commercials an hour, with one-third of them specifically targeted to children. Almost half of all food commercials promoted fast food, and more than half of all drink commercials featured soda and drinks with high sugar content. The study was published in the Feb. 18 online issue of the Journal of Pediatrics.

"While we cannot blame overweight and obesity solely on TV commercials, there is solid evidence that children exposed to such messages tend to have unhealthy diets and to be overweight," lead investigator Dr. Darcy Thompson, a pediatrician at Hopkins, said in a prepared statement.

To reduce the impact of food commercials, young children should be restricted to two hours or less per day of TV, and parent should talk to their children about healthy diet and food choices, the researchers said. Children younger than 2 shouldn't be allowed to watch any TV.

The Hopkins team also recommended that pediatricians caring for Hispanic children should be aware of their patients' heavy exposure to food commercials and the possible effects of that exposure. In addition, public health officials should lobby policy makers to limit food advertising that targets children.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about overweight and obesity in children.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCES: Johns Hopkins Children's Center, news release, Feb. 18, 2008

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