The role of television and direct experience in predicting adolescents' beliefs about the health risks of fast-food consumption
BACKGROUND: Fast-food advertising abounds on television (TV), and programs targeting youth often display fast-food consumption but rarely with any negative consequences. Cultivation research maintains that cumulative exposure to TV influences audiences' views of and beliefs about the real world. Thus, the amount of TV adolescents watch is likely to bias their views of the consequences of eating fast food. This research posits that this relationship varies as a function of adolescents' actual experience with fast food. METHOD: Two cross-sectional surveys conducted in the cultivation research tradition assess the relationship between the amount of adolescents' regular exposure to TV and their beliefs about the risks and benefits of eating fast food. Teenage children of members of online panels reported hours of TV viewing, beliefs about the consequences of eating fast food, and their frequency of fast-food consumption. RESULTS: In both studies, beliefs about health risks of fast-food consumption vary as a function of the amount of TV watched. Heavy TV viewers have less negative and more positive beliefs about the consequences of fast-food consumption than light viewers. As direct experience with fast food increases, the relationship between TV viewing and risk perceptions weakens, but the relationship between TV viewing and positive perceptions strengthens. These moderated relationships remain when we control for physical activity (Study 1) and the density of fast-food restaurants in respondents' geographical area (Study 2). CONCLUSION: Given the role of TV viewing in biasing perceptions of the consequences of eating fast food, public health researchers and practitioners should carefully monitor and perhaps regulate the amount of fast-food advertising on TV and the content of TV programs.