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Teens: Under the Influence of TV

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Heavy Viewing, Heavy Kids

These days TV is the virtual equivalent of a one-stop junk food supermarket, tempting kids with snacks, sweets, and other unhealthy treats. A recent Kaiser Foundation review of over 8,800 ads aimed at youth found that nearly 75 percent of food commercials viewed by kids are for products high in sugar, sodium, and fat (teens see 17 food ads a day, while tweens see 21). And the Kaiser review didn't turn up a single commercial for fresh fruits or vegetables.

Little surprise, then, that the more TV kids watch, the more unhealthy their eating habits are. According to a 2006 Harvard University study, adolescents consume an average of 167 calories every hour they're parked in front of the set. (Multiply that by 4 -- the average number of hours kids watch TV daily -- and they can easily pack on a pound a week.) What's more, "Extra calories don't just come from snacking while in front of the TV," says Jean Wiecha, PhD, the senior research scientist who led the Harvard study. "The endless pitches for soft drinks, chips, candy, and cookies lead kids to make poor diet choices all day long."

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