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Television characters blamed for children's unhealthy diets

LONDON - Homer Simpson's love for doughnuts and beer and 'Big Brother' contestants' penchant for fry-ups and biscuits are fuelling children's unhealthy eating habits, a report claims, with 69% failing to eat five portions of fresh fruit or vegetables a day.

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The new study, carried out by children's research agency Dubit on behalf of supermarket chain Somerfield, found that almost two-thirds of parents, 59%, feel that the large-bellied 'Simpsons' character promotes unhealthy eating and glamorises an unhealthy lifestyle.

The online study also questioned more than 1,000 eight- to 12-year-olds, and found that the unhealthiest age group of children is 12-year-olds, with just one-fifth of them eating the correct five portions a day. The same proportion consumed only one portion or less a day.

Over half of children are successfully pestering their parents in the supermarket to buy their favourite foods, with television programmes blamed for the rise in unhealthy alternatives added to the trolley.

However, according to the study, 57% of parents fear confrontation when discussing healthy eating with their children and most will give in to their offspring's demands to avoid disagreements.

Suprisingly, parents also feel that healthy food advocates Gillian McKeith, presenter of Channel 4's 'You Are What You Eat' and Jamie Oliver also have not helped the cause, with a sixth of parents finding McKeith "uncool" and describing Oliver's attempts to improve school dinners "naff".

Somerfield said a way of improving childrens' eating habits would be to produce some new and credible role models who can help make eating healthy cool among youngters.

"The idea of television influencing kids' behaviour is nothing new but its impact specifically on their eating habits is surprising," a spokesperson for Somerfield said.

The report also revealed children's confusion with food terms, with 11% thinking a vegetarian is someone who likes vegetables.

One in five youngsters believed that beef is derived from pigs, one in eight thought cheese is made from butter, 5% thought it is made from eggs and 1% even thought sweetcorn is the source. 

The findings did provide some positive news for parents in that cabbage, broccoli, corn on the cob, green beans, peppers and sprouts all become more popular as teenagers get older.

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