The link between media exposure and obesity in children


Research paints a very consistent picture that exposure to advertising has several clear effects on children, including, and perhaps especially, how much food they eat.

One area of the most interest when it comes to children and advertising is advertising’s effect on children’s food intake—both the amount of food children consume and the type of food they consume. Research in this area consistently concludes that food advertising on television is related to an increase in the amount of food children eat. For example, in one study children were asked to watch a cartoon—some of the children saw a food commercial during the cartoon, and some children saw a non-food commercial during the cartoon. A snack was made available to students during the experiment. Children who saw the food commercial during the cartoon ate an astounding 45% more of the snack than children who saw the non-food advertisement. In 2010, The World Health Organization issued a report after reviewing the research on the relationship between advertising and children’s food consumption and concluded that “television advertising influences food preferences, purchase requests, and consumption patterns.” Based on their review of the evidence, they felt strongly enough about the connection between advertising and children’s obesity that they issued a call for policy that would help reduce the exposure of children to marketing of foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, and salt.

By now, the Pokemon Go craze is so last month. What you may not have known about the craze is that some of the “stops” exist due to paid sponsorships. In other words, companies like McDonald’s are using children’s interest in this game to draw them into their restaurants (read more about it here), adding another level to advertising’s effect on children’s consumption of fast food.

So, what’s a parent to do? You’ve already read (several times!) about how I think parents need to talk to their kids about undesirable media content. You might also try the tips offered by the Campaign For a Commercial-Free Childhood. And, parents like you are doing great things to help your kids avoid the effects of advertising exposure. I invite you to share your tips and strategies so that we, as a media parenting community, can learn from each other.

One comment

  1. Probably too radical for the USA…

    “The province of Quebec in Canada has the lowest childhood obesity rates in the country despite having one of the most sedentary lifestyles. How is that possible? A study by Tirtha Dhar and Kathy Baylis found that Quebec’s 32 year ban on advertising to children led to an estimated: – US$88 million annual reduction in expenditures on fast food – 13.4 billion to 18.4 billion fewer fast food calories being consumed per year. The study also found that patterns established in childhood carried into adulthood, with French speaking young adults in Quebec being 38% less likely to purchase fast food than French speaking young adults in Ontario (where there is no advertising ban).”

    “In the United Kingdom, Greece, Denmark, and Belgium advertising to children is restricted. In Norway and Quebec advertising to children under the age of 12 is illegal.[45] The 1991 ban in Sweden was repealed on 1 August 2010.”


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