TV ads for fast food contribute to child obesity

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Banning fast-food advertisements on television could reduce the number of overweight children in the United States by as much as 18%, according to a report published today from economists at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The study, published in the Journal of Law & Economics, is the largest of its kind to directly link childhood obesity to fast-food advertising. The percentage of overweight children ages 6 to 11 more than tripled between 1970 and 1999 (to 13%), according to the federal government. The study is based on the TV viewing habits of nearly 13,000 children taken from two national surveys in 1979 and 1997. Researchers measured the number of hours of fast-food advertising on television viewed by children on a weekly basis. They found that a ban on fast-food advertising during children’s programming would reduce the number of overweight children ages 3 to 11 by 18% and lower the number of overweight adolescents ages 12 to 18 by 14%.

Although this strategy might help reduce childhood obesity, the authors of the paper -- from Lehigh University, Georgia State University and City University of New York Graduate Center -- question whether a ban is practical since it would involve a high degree of government involvement. Sweden, Norway and Finland are the only countries to have banned commercial sponsorship of children’s programs.

‘Hopefully, this line of research can lead to a serious discussion about the type of policies that can curb America’s obesity epidemic,’ said Shin-Yi Chou of Lehigh University, a co-author of the study.


In 2006, the Institute of Medicine issued a report concluding there is compelling evidence linking food advertising on television to the upswing in child obesity.

-- Shari Roan