Prepared Foods June 13, 2005 enewsletter

A University of Illinois study finds television commercials for food are confusing children about what is healthy and what is not.

The study found the more television a child watches, the more confused they are about what foods will make them strong and healthy.

Speech professor Kristen Harrison, the author of the study, said the commercials also robbed children of their ability to provide the reasons behind their food choices.

Harrison found children equate labels like "diet" with "fat-free" with nutritious.

"When they were presented with choices like Diet Coke versus orange juice and fat-free ice cream versus cottage cheese, they were more likely to pick the wrong answer -- the diet and fat-free foods -- than when they were presented with choices without these labels, for example, spinach versus lettuce," Harrison said.

"The labels 'diet' and 'fat-free' suggest that these foods are good for them and make it harder for them to pick the 'right' answer," Harrison said, noting that the goal of the study was "to gauge children's understanding of which food would help them grow, not make them slimmer."