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Economists Say Television Ads Influence Childhood Obesity

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Thursday, November 20, 2008 1:26 PM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: Protecting Your Family, Childhood Obesity, Diabetes, Kid's Health, Healthy Living, Obesity

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IMAGE SOURCE: © Wikimedia Commons / fat adolescent / author: Robert Lawton

One in three children in the U.S. is considered overweight. Some are obese.

Could banning fast food advertisements from children’s television programs help reduce the number of overweight children in the U.S.? Economists suggest it would – 18 percent for overweight children and 14 percent for overweight teens.

In a new study, researchers used statistical models to link obesity rates to the amount of time spent watching fast food advertising, finding that watching more fast food commercials increases the risk of obesity in children.

“At present, there is not much research to show that overweight children are more likely to watch television than other children,” said Michael Grossman, professor of economics at the City University of New York. “We are arguing the cause is how many ads are being aired – seeing more of these ads is leading to higher rates of childhood obesity.”

The estimates used in the study rely on older data compiled in the 1990s, according to Elaine D. Kolish, director of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. Since that time, two of the largest fast food chains – Burger Kind and McDonald’s – and several other companies have signed on to the council’s Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.

The Initiative is designed to shift the mix of advertising messaging to children to encourage healthier dietary choices and healthy lifestyles in children younger than 12.

“Food marketing is a disease on the landscape of children and has been shown numerous times to have a negative effect,” said Kelly Brownell, director of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

Three countries have banned commercial sponsorship of children’s programs – Finland, Norway and Sweden. Study authors acknowledged that the chances of such a ban in the United States are not likely to occur.

But, because advertisements are a tax-deductible business expense, researchers also examined the potential impact of eliminating federal tax deductions for fast food advertisements targeting kids. A move that could potentially lower childhood obesity rates by as much as 5 to 7 percent.

The study is published in this month’s issue of The Journal of Law and Economics.

Another recent study found remarkable evidence to suggest that children who are obese or have high cholesterol show early warning signs of heart disease.

Researchers found, obese children as young as 10 had arteries of a 45-year-old, as well as other heart abnormalities, that greatly increase their risk of heart disease. #


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