Study: On TV, Kids Drinks Being Advertised as Healthy

What should your preschooler be drinking each day?

tv ads geared at parents say sugary drinks are healthy
Is what your preschooler drinking healthy? According to a new study, if you saw an ad for it on tv, it's possible it isn't. Jamie Grill

Is what's in your preschooler's cup healthy? According to a new study found in the December issue of Pediatrics, if you saw an advertisement for the drink during one of your child's favorite television show, chances are good that the drink isn't as nutritious as you might hope.

Researchers who published their findings in "Children’s Food and Beverage Promotion on Television to Parents," found that television ads for food and drinks for kids that are scheduled during children's television shows but aimed at parents, often overstate the health benefits of these products, portraying them as nutritious and family friendly.

Products being advertised included sweetened cereals and sugary drinks. The study found that 42 percent of all airtime was advertisements geared at parents. Of that, 73 percent of ads were focused on sugary drinks. In these ads, researchers said, the message was very positive, "emphasizing nutrition or health benefits, despite a link between sugary drink intake and childhood obesity, dental decay and other problems."

“We need to determine how these advertising messages might undermine the ability of parents to identify healthy foods for their children,” said lead study author Jennifer Emond of Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

To start, the researchers kept track of ads featuring food and beverages that appeared on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Nickelodeon, NickToons, Disney XD and Cartoon Network. The foods and drinks were identified. The study then expanded to any time the identified food and beverages that appeared on these channels.

Researchers discovered that if an ad was geared at kids, it usually featured some sort of animated or recognizable character. Kids would also be directed to visit a web site or other form of social media. Ads geared at parents focused primarily on families and how the product being advertised was healthy and was a good fit in an active, healthy lifestyle.


“This marketing strategy consists of a one-two punch, with the children’s ads aiming to increase the likelihood of a purchase request from the child, and the parent advertising aiming to undermine the parent’s ability to say ‘no’ to the request,” said Diane Gilbert-Diamond, a senior author of the study. 

So what should kids be drinking?

“For most children engaging in routine physical activity, plain water is best,” said Holly J. Benjamin, MD, FAAP, a member of the executive committee of the AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness in a report. Juice is ok, only in moderation. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children between the ages of one and six shouldn't drink more than four to six ounces of juice per day. While they appeal to kids because they taste good, too much juice can cause belly issues in the form of diarrhea, as well as tooth decay. Instead, give your child a whole piece or serving of fruit or veggies. You can also give your child water flavored with fruit -- try cold water infused with pieces of fruit -- cut-up apples, kiwi, strawberries, or oranges all work really well.


As for milk, a popular drink choice for little ones, it is a good option -- with limits. The AAP says kids ages two to eight should drink about two cups of milk per day, but talk to your pediatrician about what kind of milk works best as well as specific amounts. 

Source: Pediatrics, online. Published November 9, 2015.

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