WASHINGTON - Banning fast-food advertising on television
in the United States could reduce the number of overweight children by
as much as 18 percent, researchers said on Wednesday.
But the team at the National Bureau of Economic Research questioned
whether it would be practical to impose that kind of government
regulation -- something only Sweden, Norway and Finland have done.
"We have known for some time that childhood obesity has gripped our
culture, but little empirical research has been done that identifies
television advertising as a possible cause," said economist Shin-Yi
Chou of Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.
"Hopefully, this line of research can lead to a serious discussion
about the type of policies that can curb America's obesity epidemic."
For their study, funded in part by the federal government, Chou and
colleagues used data on nearly 13,000 children from the 1979
Child-Young Adult National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and the 1997
National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, both issued by the U.S.
Department of Labor.
"The advertising measure used is the number of hours of spot
television fast-food restaurant advertising messages seen per week,"
they wrote in the Journal of Law and Economics.
"Our results indicate that a ban on these advertisements would
reduce the number of overweight children ages 3-11 in a fixed
population by 18 percent and would reduce the number of overweight
adolescents ages 12-18 by 14 percent."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that
13.9 percent of children aged 2 to 5 are overweight, 18.8 percent of
those aged 6 to 11 are and more than 17 percent of those 12 to 19.
The percentages have been steadily rising.
Television watching is also known to raise obesity rates, both
because children exercise less and because it can interfere with sleep.
The Institute of Medicine reported in 2006 that there was compelling
evidence linking food advertising on television and increased childhood
One study suggested that children viewed an average of about 20,000
commercials aired on television per year in the late 1970s, rising to
30,000 per year in the late 1980s and more than 40,000 per year in the
Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by Julie Steenhuysen and Cynthia Osterman