THURSDAY, June 13 (HealthDay News) -- The types of TV shows that families watch influences the amount of junk food that preschool children eat, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that children in homes where parents watch regular TV with commercials had higher levels of junk food consumption and were more likely to have distorted views about healthy eating than children in homes where parents watched commercial-free digitally recorded TV or other types of media without food advertising.

The link between TV viewing and junk food consumption was much stronger in "food-secure" homes than in those that were "food-insecure." A family is considered food-secure if they have ready access to food.

Since food insecurity is associated with limited income, it restricts how much people can spend on junk food. But food-secure people can afford to give into cravings when seeing junk food ads on TV, the University of Michigan researchers explained.

The findings -- based on interviews with more than 100 parents and their children -- are scheduled for presentation at the International Communication Association's annual meeting, held June 17 to 21 in London, England.

"Even though parents and other caregivers are the primary gatekeepers regarding young children's food intake, children are still learning about food as it relates to health from family, media and other sources, and may use this knowledge later on to inform their decisions when parents or other adults aren't there to supervise them," study co-author Kristen Harrison said in an association news release.

The preschool years are especially important in influencing whether a child will grow up to be obese, so it's important to learn as much as possible about the factors that can lead preschool children to develop eating habits that lead to obesity, Harrison said.

In the United States, about one in three children is overweight or obese, which puts them at greater risk of serious illness later in life.

Studies presented at meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about childhood nutrition.

SOURCE: International Communication Association, news release, June 6, 2013

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