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A recent study has found that obesity among Hispanic children has hit the 40% mark and food commercials on television are largely to be blamed for it. The advertisements often promote food and beverages with little nutritional value but high on calories.

Childhood obesity epidemic is a problem that many countries around the world are facing. It is associated with increased mortality and morbidity and leads to increased expenditure on health conditions. Statistics show that the rates of obesity in the children and young generation of America have become thrice of what they used to be in the last quarter century.

Around 20% of the adolescents and young adults are obese and the obesity rates in preschoolers are also increasing at a remarkable speed.

It has been seen that while young people all over America are getting increasingly obese, this trend it particularly high in the Hispanic youth. Almost 40% of Hispanic youth are overweight compared to 28% of white youths.

The lifelong risk of developing diabetes and other health problems is also higher in Hispanics compared to whites and blacks. Research also shows that Hispanics watch more television compared to others and are therefore, more exposed to advertisements related to foods. So, is it fair to assume that food advertisements shown on television are somehow responsible for the increasing prevalence of obesity in Hispanic youth?

According to a new study published in a recent issue of the journal JAMA Pediatrics, Hispanic youth are exposed to 12 percent more television than their non-Hispanic counterparts. This translates to more exposure to food commercials and may be a reason behind the increased prevalence of obesity in them. The research was carried out by Frances Fleming-Milici from the Yale University along with his colleagues. They measured advertising on national broadcast and cable television in 2010. The households consisted of Hispanic and non-Hispanic children belonging to three major age groups.

They were preschoolers who were 2 to 5 years old, children between 6 and 11 years of age, and adolescents between 12 and 17 years. As most of the Hispanic children speak both English and Spanish, the researchers measured the exposure of these children to food related commercials on both English speaking and Spanish speaking television programs. The advertisements were categorized into those of fast food restaurants, breakfast cereals, candies, snacks, milk and milk products, juices, noncarbonated beverages, carbonated drinks, energy drinks, fruits and vegetables, desserts, and other prepared foods.

Of these categories, the most commonly viewed commercials by the Hispanics were those of fast food, breakfast cereals and candies. The researchers noted that while there were only two commercials of these types per hour on Spanish language programs, there were eight such commercials per hour on English language programs. While 84% of food related commercials on Spanish language programs advertised unhealthy foods and beverages, this percentage was around 73% in case of English language programs. As Hispanic children are exposed to programs of both the languages, they end up getting more exposed to food related commercials on television compared to youngsters who speak only one language.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • “Amount of Hispanic Youth Exposure to Food and Beverage Advertising on Spanish- and English-Language Television”, by Fleming-Milici F, Harris JL, Sarda V, Schwarts MB, published in Journal of American Medical Association on June 17, 2013, accessed on July 28, 2013
  • “By how much would limiting TV food advertising reduce childhood obesity?” by Veerman J L, Beeck EF, Mackenbach JP, et al, published on March 26, 2009 in the European Journal of Public Health, accessed on July 28, 2013.
  • Photo courtesy of Malingering by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/malingering/5520606084/
  • Photo courtesy of derekv2 by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/75417845@N06/6777692913/

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