Spanish-Language TV Commercials Contributing to Latino Youth Obesity, Says Study

The rising obesity epidemic among Latino youth may be traceable to the sheer volume of Spanish-language fast-food television commercials, according to a study in the Journal of Pediatrics. The research was conducted by pediatricians from the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.

"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," says study lead investigator Darcy Thompson, M.D., M.P.H., a pediatrician at Hopkins Children’s. Past research among English-speaking children has shown that TV ads influence food preferences, particularly among the more impressionable young viewers.

Programming during the heaviest childrens’ viewing hours on Univision and Telemundo, the two leading Spanish-language channels in the US, was monitored. (These channels reach 99% and 93% of US Latino households). The two or three food commercials aired each hour specifically targeted children, with nearly 50% of commercials advertising fast food, soda and other high sugar content drinks.

The researchers recommend limiting young children’s TV viewing to two hours a day or less, with parental guidance on healthy diet and food choices. Children under 2 should not be allowed to watch any TV at all, advise pediatricians.

Other recommendations include advising Latino childrens’ pediatricians of their parents’ heavy exposure to food advertising; and following the lead of many European countries in urging public health authorities to appeal to policy makers to limit food advertising to children.

The Journal of Pediatrics, DOI: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2007.09.011.

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