Trimming Fast Food Advertising would Cut Back Child Obesity, Study Says

November 26, 2008
Sean Johnson

According to a new study published in the November issue of the Journal of Law and Economics, childhood obesity could be reduced by up to 18% by banning fast food advertisements in the United States.

According to a new study published in the November issue of the Journal of Law and Economics, childhood obesity could be reduced by up to 18% by banning fast food advertisements in the United States. Conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the study measured the number of hours children viewed fast food advertisements in a week. The authors, NBER economists Shin-Yi Chou of Lehigh University, Inas Rashad of Georgia State University, and Michael Grossman of City University of New York Graduate Center, claim that a ban would “reduce the number of overweight children ages 3-11 by 18 percent, while also lowering the number of overweight adolescents ages 12-18 by 14 percent.” This study is, to date, the “largest of its kind to directly tie childhood obesity to fast food advertising on American television,” and was based on the viewing habits of approximately 13,000 children.

Although they believe a ban would be extremely effective, the authors were quick to question whether the cost of implementing such policies, as well as such a high degree of government involvement, would be possible. The only countries to have banned commercial sponsorship of children’s programming are Norway and Finland.

Whatever initiatives may or may not be spurred by studies like this one focused on obesity, the fact remains clear: Americans of all ages suffer from this condition, and, given the many conditions and diseases associated with overweight and obesity, something needs to be done. The Centers for Disease Control has estimated that, between 1970 and 1999, the percentage of overweight children between the ages of six and 11 tripled, and that adolescents between 12 and 19 saw a 14% rise in being overweight. Research also indicates that “there is an 80 percent chance an overweight adolescent will be an obese adult and that over 300,000 deaths can be attributed to obesity and weight in the United States every year.”