Banning Fast Food Advertising Would Curb Childhood Obesity But The Social Cost Would Be High
    By News Staff | November 19th 2008 12:00 AM | 3 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    A ban on fast food advertisements in the United States could reduce the number of overweight children by as much as 18 percent, according to a new study being published this month in the Journal of Law and Economics. The study also reports that eliminating the tax deductibility associated with television advertising would result in a reduction of childhood obesity, though in smaller numbers. 

    The authors found that a ban on fast food television advertisements during children's programming 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. The effect is more pronounced for males than females. 

    Though a ban would be effective, the authors also question whether such a high degree of government involvement—and the costs of implementing such policies—is a practical option. Should the U.S. pursue that path, they would follow Sweden, Norway and Finland as the only countries to have banned commercial sponsorship of children's programs.

    The study was conducted by researchers from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) with funding from the National Institutes of Health. 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 co-authored the paper, which measures the number of hours of fast food television advertising messages viewed by children on a weekly basis. 

    "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," says Chou, the Frank L. Magee Distinguished Professor at Lehigh's College of Business and Economics. "Hopefully, this line of research can lead to a serious discussion about the type of policies that can curb America's obesity epidemic."

    The study also found that the elimination of tax deductibility tied to advertising would similarly produce declines in childhood obesity, albeit at a smaller rate of 5-7 percent. Advertising is considered a business expense and, as such, it can be used to reduce a company's taxable income. The authors deduce that, since the corporate income tax rate is 35 percent, the elimination of the tax deductibility of food advertising costs would be equivalent to increasing the price of advertising by 54 percent. 

    Such an action would consequently result in the reduction of fast food advertising messages by 40 percent for children, and 33 percent for adolescents. 

    The study—the largest of its kind to directly tie childhood obesity to fast food advertising on American television—is based on the viewing habits of nearly 13,000 children using data 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. 

    A 2006 report issued by the Institute of Medicine indicated there is compelling evidence linking food advertising on television and increased childhood obesity. "Some members of the committee that wrote the report recommended congressional regulation of television food advertisements aimed at children, but the report also said that the final link that would definitively prove that children had become fatter by watching food commercials aimed at them cannot be made," says Grossman. 

    "Our study provides evidence of that link," he says.

    The Centers for Disease Control estimate that, between 1970 and 1999, the percentage of overweight children ages 6-11 more than tripled to 13 percent. Adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19 also saw a significant increase, reaching 14 percent. 

    Research 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.


    maybe if children watched less television then such legislation would be unnessary. but i do agree that it's more socially reprehensible for corporations to spend millions on psychologists and advertising whose sole aim is to manipulate children than for governments to ban such actions. parents have the ablility to block television shows that are too violent or sexually graphic, but they can't block advertisements that are made to bend and fabricate their childrens' minds.

    Gerhard Adam
    "Though a ban would be effective, the authors also question whether such a high degree of government involvement—and the costs of implementing such policies—is a practical option. "

    Why is it good that the government involves itself in advertising bans on alcohol and tobacco and even in legislating whether a business can allow smoking on its premises, but for children we suddenly have qualms?

    If anyone were shown to manipulate children regarding their beliefs or for political agendas, the public outcry would be immense.  However, since the manipulation is more subtle we suddenly want have pangs of conscience because it might affect corporate profits? 

    In truth, it is profitability that is the sole motivating factor in this debate, and it is clear that corporations and not children have the upper hand.
    Mundus vult decipi
    I am often baffled by claims of slippery slope libertarianism, especially here in California where you can't smoke a cigar after a nice steak yet no one was allowed to vote on it, including the legislature.  It isn't like we could spend money more stupidly than we do now.  The authors seem to clearly be in favor of banning advertising but they are trying to maintain some neutrality by saying the cost would be high.   

    How high can it be?   Does we have entire government agencies devoted to keeping whiskey ads off of TV?   Not that I am aware of.   You ban them and fine the advertiser and the network and that's that.    While we're at it, let's ban all those ads that show men being idiots while their kids and wives are patronizingly astute.   And that commercial for the video game where the back of someone's head is an open air auditorium with a rock band in it.   I can't be the only one creeped out by that and I am not sure what will happen if my kid sees it.