Young children who spent more than half an hour a day online were almost twice as likely to pester their parents for junk food, a report has claimed.
The study found that primary school children who spent more than three hours on the web were more than four times more likely to spend their pocket money on chocolate, crisps, sugary drinks and takeaways than their peers who browsed for less than half an hour.
These children were also 79 per cent more likely to be overweight or obese while those who were online between 30 minutes and three hours a day were 53 per cent more likely to be carrying excess weight than those who were online for less, according to the report by Cancer Research UK.
Health campaigners welcomed the report, saying that a 9pm watershed on junk food advertising both on TV and online
Caroline Cerny, spokeswoman for the Obesity Health Alliance, said: “We know that children can see as many as nine junk food adverts during one 30-minute episode of their favourite TV shows, so it’s not surprising that this leads them to pester for, buy and eat more unhealthy foods. This is having an effect on obesity rates in children, putting them at risk of a range of diseases as they get older. But we can do something about this – bringing in a 9pm watershed on junk food adverts on TV and similar measures online will protect children from these types of advert and give them a better chance of growing up healthy.”
Teams from the University of Liverpool and Cancer Research UK’s Cancer Policy Research Centre asked almost 2,500 seven to 11-year-olds and their parents about their eating habits and how much screen time they had, outside of doing homework.
Researchers found that, on average, children were online for 16 hours a week – not including time spent for homework – and watched 22 hours of television per week. The amount of exercise done by the children had no impact on the results, showing that for this research, excess weight was not linked with being sedentary.
Each additional hour of commercial TV that children watched was linked with an increased likelihood of pestering their parents to buy products they had seen advertised. They were four times more likely to buy chocolate and over three times more likely to buy sugary drinks if they watched more than three hours of commercial TV everyday compared to youngsters who didn’t watch as much and 59 per cent more likely to be obese or overweight.
Advertising rules mean that junk food adverts are banned on all children’s TV - and any adult television which has an audience comprised of a quarer or more children.
Dr Jyotsna Vohra, Cancer Research UK’s head of cancer policy research centre, said: “Obesity is the biggest preventable cause of cancer in the UK after smoking so it’s vital we see a 9pm watershed on junk food adverts on TV.”