Consider this the next time you turn on the electronic babysitter: Some kids carry a gene that makes them more susceptible to overeating after seeing junk food ads on television, according to a new study published in the International Journal of Obesity.
Just like our genes determine our height and eye color, they also play a big role in determining our weight - and now scientists have discovered a new gene that makes certain children more vulnerable to the effects of food advertisements.
In the study, scientists gave nearly 200 kids permission to watch TV and eat unlimited snacks. Half the kids watched a show that was interspersed with ads for toys while the other half saw ads for junk food. The researchers then measured how much food each child ate and tested them for the FTO gene sequence, also known as "the fat gene." The kids who watched the food ads ate nearly 50 percent more food than those who were teased with toy ads. But among the food-ad group, the kids with the FTO gene ate three times more snacks than their peers without it.
"This study shows that children overeat in response to TV food ads even when they are not hungry. More importantly, some children are genetically prone to eat much more in response to those cues," said Diane Gilbert-Diamond, one of the study authors, in a press release. "The findings may help us understand how genes predispose people to obesity by amplifying the response to environmental food cues. If that finding is confirmed, limiting exposure to food advertising and other food cues would be key to combating child obesity," she added.
Now, no one is saying you shouldn't let kids watch TV - that's a modern genie that isn't going back into its ancient bottle anytime soon - but it does make an excellent case for skipping the ads. Because there are two important takeaways from this research: First, all kids overate when they saw the ads for treats. Second, the kids who are already at a genetic disadvantage for being overweight suffer the effects even more - and unless you want to get your kid genetically tested then you can't know how much they'll be affected. Fortunately, where technology giveth (ads), technology also taketh away (ad blockers), and there are things you can do to limit the whole family's exposure to obesity-promoting advertising.
1. TiVo or On Demand. Not only do these subscription TV devices allow you to skip the boring parts and political ads (which are probably not great for anyone's health either), but you can also use them to skip over those all-too-delicious looking pizza ads.
2. Ad-blocking software. If your kids watch shows on your phone, tablet, computer, or linked TV, then you can use ad blockers to hide all the advertisements during programming and on the screen. There are apps for phones (Ghostery is my favorite), extensions for browsers (try this one for Chrome), and many, many customizable programs for your computer (K9 offers great options for parents).
3. Ad-free apps. Some apps, particularly those targeted to children, offer ad-free viewing. Some, like Netflix, make it simply part of the service, while others, like Hulu, will do it for an extra fee.
4. PBS. The public broadcasting station is popular among parents and preschools for a reason: They consistently offer quality and entertaining programs and limit ads to only the most innocuous public service-type announcements and only between shows, not during.
5. Customize ads. Some ad services on devices will let you customize which types of ads you see. Often there is a "x" or "?" on the screen that when touched or clicked allows you to say why you would prefer not to see a certain ad again. Respond enough times and eventually you can weed out all the problematic ones. You'll still be seeing ads, but at least they won't be ones you hate.
You Might Also Like