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TV fast-food ads encourage childhood obesity, pediatricians say

TV advertisements for sugary and fatty foods are playing a role in childhood obesity and ought to be taken off the air, a leading group of pediatricians says.

In a policy statement released Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Communications and Media rips “the media” for contributing to child and adolescent obesity, ticking off the many ways in which screen time is a negative influence. The group called on doctors to ask Congress and regulatory groups to ban advertisements for junk food and fast food during kids’ programming, as well as advertisements targeted to children via cellphone and other media.

Its first recommendation is that pediatricians ask parents two questions: How much time does your child spend in front of the screen? And is there a TV or Internet connection in your child’s bedroom? The recommendations continue from there, growing broader and more far-reaching.

The statement cites several studies (and the success of the $4.2 billion spent to market and advertise fast food) establishing that TV ads prime children to prefer and request high-fat and high-sugar foods and points to the fact that poor snacking habits while watching TV may contribute to weight gain.

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The group says it is unfortunate there isn’t more research on the affects on obesity from other media, beyond TV. The pediatricians do give kudos to one form of media traditionally shunned by well-intentioned parents — video games. Interactive video games such as Dance Dance Revolution and Wii Fit give preteens a workout similar to moderate walking, one study found.

Plus, there are no ads. And it’s hard to dance while eating.

healthkey@tribune.com

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