Washing Down Commercials with a Big Gulp

Kids drink more sweetened drinks when watching more TV

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Watching TV has long been linked to snacking on the couch. But kids watching TV may be having more of another unhealthy item — sweetened drinks.

A recent study found that kids drank more sweetened drinks when they watched more TV.

Even if parents discouraged sweetened drinks, the link to TV watching existed, but it was not as strong.

This finding suggests that parents who reduce kids' TV time and discourage sweetened drinks may see their kids drink fewer sugary beverages.

"Don't stock sugary drinks in the house."

The study, led by Steingerdur Olafsdottir, a PhD student at the Department of Food and Nutrition and Sports Science at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, looked for any possible links between how many sweetened drinks kids had and how much time they spent watching TV.

The researchers relied on data from questionnaires from Swedish parents of 1,733 children, aged 2 to 9.

The questionnaires asked about kids' screen time, their diets and other lifestyle factors. The parents were also asked how frequently their children ate certain types of foods.

Among the questions were ones that asked about whether and/or how parents attempted to limit their children's screen time and/or sweetened drinks.

These questions were included to see if a link between screen time and sweetened drinks existed even when parents were attempting to limit one or both.

A little over half the children regularly drank sweetened beverages both at the start of the study and at the follow-up two years later.

At the follow-up, 56 percent of the kids drink sweetened beverages at least one to three times a week.

Meanwhile, 53 percent of the children watched TV for more than one hour a day, but only 6 percent watched more than two hours a day.

Unsurprisingly, the children of parents who drank sweetened beverages at least one to three times a week were 4.5 times more likely to do the same, even after taking other demographic factors into account.

When the researchers looked at the amount of sweetened drinks the kids had compared to the amount of TV they watched, they found that both increased together.

Overall, kids were 70 percent more likely to drink sweetened beverages at least once a week for every additional hour of TV they watched.

When the researchers took into account the parents' attitudes toward sweetened drinks (adjusting for parents who drank sweetened drinks or didn't disapprove of them), the link between TV watching and sweetened beverage drinking weakened a little bit.

That finding means that parents who discouraged their children from having sweetened drinks and/or watching TV had an effect on reducing how many sweetened drinks the kids had.

The researchers found that kids were 40 to 50 percent more likely to drink at least one to three sweetened beverages a week for each additional hour per day they watched TV, after taking into account parent attitudes.

The likelihood of consuming at least one to three sweetened drinks a week was slightly higher — 60 percent more likely per hour — if the kids watched commercials as well.

"The likelihood of drinking sweetened beverages at least weekly was more than double when parents did not or only partly attempt to limit exposure to  TV commercials, as compared to limiting the exposure completely," the researchers found.

"Our results also indicate that to decrease children’s sweetened beverage consumption, parents’ attempts to limit children’s exposure to TV commercials are important," they wrote.

The researchers concluded that children's diet habits may therefore be affected by their TV habits.

"The results strengthen the assumption that it is possible to influence children’s dietary habits through their TV habits," the authors wrote.

Deborah Gordon, MD, a dailyRx expert on nutrition, said what caught her eye in this study was the increased likelihood that kids would drink sweetened beverages if their parents did.

"Under the age of 10, children's primary access to sweetened beverages is through their parents, so counseling everyone about the hazards of sweetened beverages remains important," Dr. Gordon said.

"It's particularly important to address the parents of young children, who might be able to significantly reduce their children's risk of obesity and diabetes by keeping sweetened drinks out of the home and out of their own diets and, additionally, by discouraging excessive 'screen time,'" Dr. Gordon said.

The study was originally published April 27 in the International Journal of Public Health.

The research was funded by The Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research and by a grant from the European Union. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 5, 2013
Last Updated:
August 7, 2013