February 19, 2008 / 7:46 PM / 11 years ago

TV ads in Spanish may fuel kid obesity-US study

WASHINGTON, Feb 19 (Reuters) - A siege of fast-food commercials on Spanish-language television channels in the United States may be helping drive an obesity epidemic among Latino youth, U.S. researchers reported on Tuesday.

Two or three food commercials air every hour during prime-time on two top Spanish-language stations in the United States, they found, and a third of these were aimed specifically at children.

"While we cannot blame overweight and obesity solely on TV commercials, there is solid evidence that children exposed to such messages tend to have unhealthy diets and to be overweight," Dr. Darcy Thompson, a pediatrician at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore who led the study, said in a statement.

Latino children make up one-fifth of the U.S. child population and have the highest obesity and overweight rates. Government estimates show that 30 percent of all Hispanic or Latino children in the United States are overweight, compared to 25 percent of white children.

And a federal survey found that 50 percent of Hispanic or Latino children have a television in their bedrooms, compared to 20 percent of white children.

Writing in the Journal of Pediatrics, Thompson and colleagues said they reviewed 60 hours of programs airing between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Univision and Telemundo, the two largest Spanish-language channels in the United States.

Nearly half of all food commercials featured fast food, and more than half of all drink commercials promoted soda and drinks with high sugar content, they said.

The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends that young children should be restricted to two hours a day or less of TV viewing and says children younger than 2 should not watch any TV.

Thompson said pediatricians caring for Latino children should be aware of how many food ads they may be seeing and counsel them accordingly. (Reporting by Maggie Fox, editing by Will Dunham and Cynthia Osterman)

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