Fast Food Ads = Fat Children?

A new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research reveals that a ban on fast food advertising during children's programming would reduce obesity rates in America's youth by 14-18%.

A causal relationship between fast food ads on TV and obesity rates in children has been established. This according to a study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which revealed that a fast food TV ban for children's programming would reduce obesity rates by 14-18%, with effects being more pronounced for males and younger children. 

According to Adage, the National Bureau of Economic Research has described the study as "the largest of its kind to directly tie childhood obesity to fast-food advertising on American television."

"Hopefully, this line of research can lead to a serious discussion about the type of policies that can curb America's obesity epidemic," stated Shin-Yi Chou, one of the study's authors.

The big question of course is whether government intervention should go quite so far as to ban fast food advertising for children's programs, or whether the onus should be on parents. The BBC ran a poll on the issue in 2004 – while the conversation was sharply divided, the majority seemed to think parents, and not advertising, are to blame. Here's a snapshot from the poll of how parents see the issue:

"Anyone who blames TV for their children's' dietary related health problems is just looking for an excuse to shift responsibility away from themselves for their failure to exercise parental control. All the government reviews of advertising in the world won't fix that." Mark, USA

"Personally I think those who want adverts banned are the ones whose children pester them into submission. Banning these adverts would make their lives 'easier' - no pestering children to contend with. Parents appear to be getting lazier and as a consequence their children grow up spoilt and rude. Parents need to wise up and realise that they have to the power to say no and to turn the television off." Kerry, Ulverston, Cumbria, UK

"What a load of rubbish. Kids get fat (or do we have to say 'obese' now?) because they eat what their parents buy and feed them on. When are parents going to start taking responsibility for their own children's health?"Dave, Doncaster, UK

On the flip side however, exist parents who support the idea:

"The more television our children watch, the more they are bombarded with advertising directed at senseless consumerist behaviour. These days, it seems that our economy is based on an insatiable appetite for personal luxuries. Where else would children learn this culture besides television?"Joey Di Venosa, Montreal, Canada
"All non-parental types say they will not let their children watch TV when they have them. Have children and then stay home and care for them 24/7. You'll change your mind about TV. Trust me."Kathy, USA

"Why should there be any advertising during children's programming? They shouldn't be viewed as a lucrative consumer market because it is only 'pest power' that turns the advertising into sales. Admittedly parents should be tougher with their kids and teach them that they can't have everything they want, but some parents don't have the strength to do that and they shouldn't be held to ransom by the advertisers."Steve, Reading, England

What do you think?

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  • Pankaj Lal

    If banning advertisements for cigarettes targeted at children helped decrease smoking, I bet limits on fast food advertising would make a positive effect. It will not remove obesity in children completely but certainly will make a bigger effect. Combination of this step with some responsibility from Parents will make an overall effect.
    If Banning commercial of a legal business is difficult than government can counter this by promoting healthy products. Tax cut is one good option. Another option is by making equally good commercials of healthy food products. If food companies can hire child psychologists to get into the brains of children and increase the ‘nag’ factor, than certainly government has even higher pool of such child psychologists to promote marketing of healthy products.
    I remember there used to be a commercial promoted by Govt. of India which picturized Milk and its good effects. Commercial was funny, catchy, and at the same time very informational about various advantages and uses of milk. It was promoted to counter Soft drink market.

  • Tyler Adams

    Yep, parents, i'm sure that advertising is to blame for your child's obesity. The little tyke sits in front of the tv, sees that catchy McDonald's ad, hops on his tricycle, peddles his way to the drive-thru for a happy meal which is sure to come with a hot new Hannah Montana action figure. That must be it.

  • david wayne osedach

    I agree 100%. One only needs to look at the marketing of McDonalds. It's aimed at children from 1 year on. They make it a fun place and serve sugary hamburgers, milk shakes, and greasy fries. Ronald McDonald is a plus - a thin clown.

  • Angela Bernstein

    Seriously, mom and dad, step it up. You are your kids’ biggest role models. It’s all about what YOU eat, what you stock your house with, and your attitude towards food that will rub off on your children. Personally, I think it is rather ignorant to place total blame on advertisements for the obesity epidemic in the States. Having worked extensively with children, I find that most of the children sent to school or extracurricular activities with fast food or very unhealthy snacks have parents that are directly contributing. I know there can be medical issues that interfere; however, this cannot be an excuse for lax parenting. Your children need your guidelines and limits. The advertisers will make their money whether you’re kids eat Big Macs and Super Size fries or not.

  • Kevin Ohannessian

    I suggest everyone read Eric Schlosser's book "Fast Food Nation." There is an excellent chapter about how McDonald's markets to children.