Have you ever really paid attention to the various food commercials we see daily while watching the television? Most of us would probably say, “Who watches those things anyway?” However, what often goes unnoticed is how these commercials affect our diets. For example, we all know the popular slogan “Trix are for kids,” which comes from the commercial featuring cartoon children eating this sugary cereal. What you might not notice is that your child asking for Trix or something similar to snack in the near future is no coincidence!
New experiments provide strong evidence that watching junk food commercials has a negative effect on our diets, even when we are not aware of doing so. In the study by Jennifer L. Harris et al., which was published in the July 2009 edition of Health Psychology, unaware children were exposed to junk food advertisements while watching TV, and also given goldfish crackers to eat. Adults were also tested, but instead they were given junk food and healthy food to eat after watching their television programs. Researchers measured how much of the snack the children ate during the experiment, and how much food (healthy or unhealthy) the adults ate afterwards. Surprisingly, children were found to eat 45% more goldfish when exposed to junk food commercials!
In order to make sure that the commercials didn’t directly influence the children’s’ snacking, none of the commercials played during the cartoons were for goldfish crackers. To provide more accurate information of how these commercials could unconsciously affect eating habits, children were not told the details of the experiment, and adults were told that this experiment was testing the effects of television and mood. After the adults who were exposed to junk food commercials finished watching, they consumed more healthy and unhealthy foods than both the groups of adults that watched no ads, and those who watched nutritional ads. This shows that the junk food commercials caused more feeding overall in adults. Even men who were attempting to diet ate significantly more unhealthy and healthy foods after watching the junk food ads! This implies that our conscious efforts are still affected by unconscious thoughts, and this may not be something that dieters want to hear.
You may be wondering, why did the children eat more goldfish when the commercials weren’t related to this brand at all? Well this is due to the priming affects of junk food commercials, which subconsciously increase our desire to eat more food in general! By associating food with fun or pleasure throughout these commercials, our brains are conditioned to relate to these feelings more generally. On the other hand nutritional commercials usually do not depict as much fun and pleasure, which could be the reason as to why more healthy food was not eaten. Thanks to this extensive research, we can now see that not only the sedentary nature of watching TV is harmful to our health, but the unconscious effects of the junk food commercials as well.