Burger Role Models Roasted and Junk Food Ads Overdone© The Australian, January 9, 2001.
The poor eating habits of television characters in popular shows such as The Simpsons, Friends and ER are encouraging children to become fat, according to nutritionists.
A study of 63 episodes of the Simpsons found only 20 per cent of health-related messages were "positive" or recommended by health professionals.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Dietic Association, said the foods most commonly mentioned on the show were beer, fatty snacks and sweets.
The Simpson clan has also been criticised for mindless snacking, high-alcohol consumption, the use of food as a bribe or reward and equating weight loss with starvation.
The doctors in the popular US hospital drama ER have also been criticised for enjoying fry-ups and drinking copious amounts of alcohol.
However, the federal Department of Health and Aged Care yesterday denied the programs were a bad influence on children's diets.
Departmental spokeswoman Kay McNiece said: "Most children see Homer Simpson as a joke character, a slob. He eats badly but his behaviour is not seen as something to aspire to. Children don't want to be like him.
"If anything, The Simpsons is a positive role model. They sit down together and eat as a family, which a lot of Australian families don't do."
Peter Clifton, director of clinical research at CSIRO Health Science and Nutrition, said it was not the programs themselves he was worried about, but the way advertisers deliberately targeted their viewers.
"Homer Simpson is a grossly unhealthy character who delights in the size of his gut. Not many people want to look like him," Dr Clifton said. "The relentless ads for pizzas and other unhealthy foods are far more potent."
Research by scientists at the University of Newcastle in England is the latest of many studies to find that television advertising does influence children's choices, especially for soft drinks, crisps and savours snacks, as these are the most easily remembered commercials.
Transcribed by Pete Escott
Last updated on January 29, 2001 by Jouni Paakkinen (firstname.lastname@example.org)