A recent study asserts that even when children’s TV programs are free of product advertisements, they still include positive cues for unhealthy food and beverages. Paul Scully, et al., “Food and beverage cues in UK and Irish children-television programming,” Archives of Disease in Childhood, July 2014. Researchers with the University of Limerick Graduate Entry Medical School apparently analyzed 85.2 hours of primetime children’s programming that aired over five weekdays on two national public broadcast channels. Of the 1,155 food and beverage cues recorded, 47.5 percent represented unhealthy foods and 25 percent represented sugary drinks. Sweet snacks (13.3 percent) and confectionary/candy (11.4 percent) were the most common food cues, while tea and coffee (13.5 percent) and sugar-sweetened drinks (13 percent) were the most common beverage cues.

In addition, the study’s authors noted that individual food or beverage cues were portrayed neutrally 47.5 percent of the time, positively 32.6 percent of the time and negatively 19.8 percent of the time. “While there is a clear link between exposure to advertising of unhealthy foods and their consumption in young children, the impact of unhealthy food/drink content in TV programs aimed at children, is not clear,” the lead author said in an July 4, 2014, University of Limerick press release. “Eating and drinking are common activities within children specific programming with unhealthy foods and beverages especially common and frequently associated with positive motivating factors, and seldom seen with negative outcomes. This is something that parents, policy makers and physicians should be aware of, and this should be balanced by more frequent and positive portrayals of healthy foods and behaviors.”