The EU study, published in the International Journal of Public Health, finds that more time in front of the TV set, and higher exposure to TV adverts, may lead to increased consumption of sweetened beverages among children.
Led by Stina Olafsdottir from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, the research team assessed the dietary and viewing habits of more than 1,700 two- to four-year-olds in Sweden.
"Children who watched more TV were more likely to drink these beverages," said Olafsdottir. "In fact, each additional hour in front of the TV increased the likelihood of regular consumption by 50%. A similar link was found for total screen time."
The research team used data from the Swedish sample of the European Identification and prevention of dietary and lifestyle-induced health effects in children and infants (IDEFICS) study. As part of the study parents filled in questionnaires about the lifestyle and dietary habits of their children aged between two and nine years.
Using data from the 1,733 Swedish families, the team found that around one in seven parents indicated that they tried to reduce their children's exposure to TV adverts; the same parents stated that their children were less prone to drink soft drinks and other sweetened beverages.
Children of parents who were less strict about TV adverts were twice as likely to consume sweetened beverages every week.
Indeed, they said that associations between screen habits and sweetened beverage consumption "were found independent of parental norms regarding sweetened beverages."
Olafsdottir and colleagues also found that children with higher exposure to food adverts on TV were more likely to consume sweetened beverages on a regular basis in a follow-up study conducted two years after the initial study.
The research team said that their findings reveal a 'a very clear link' between children's TV habits and their consumption of sweetened drinks.
"The results strengthen the assumption that it is possible to influence children’s dietary habits through their TV habits," they said.