. "Appendix D: Lessons Learned from Public Health Efforts and Their Relevance to Preventing Childhood Obesity." Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2005.
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Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance
well as legally. Overall, there is good evidence that the advertising and marketing of food products influences parental and child food choice (Food Standards Agency, 2003). Additional empirical studies clearly document the increase in the number of television commercials viewed by children (Kunkel, 2001), the increase in ads for high-fat and high-sodium convenience foods (Gamble and Cotugna, 1999), the effect of even brief exposure to television commercials on food preferences of young children (Borzekowski and Robinson, 2001), and an association between television viewing and the consumption of fast foods (French et al., 2001). Most recently, and directly related to the dietary behaviors of children, the Kaiser Family Foundation (2004) reviewed the evidence on the effect of all types of media on children’s dietary behavior, and recommended the reduction or regulation of food ads targeted to children, among other policy options. The American Psychological Association (APA, 2004) recently concluded that televised advertising messages can lead to unhealthy eating habits, particularly for children under 8 years of age who are unable to critically comprehend advertised messages. The APA report went on to recommend:
Restrict advertising primarily directed to young children of eight years and under. Policymakers need to take steps to better protect young children from exposure to advertising because of the inherent unfairness of advertising to audiences who lack the capability to evaluate biased sources of information found in television commercials.
Currently, there are no legal restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy food to children. Correspondingly, food companies are unfettered in their marketing of calorie-dense and low-nutritional-quality food to children. Some consider it to be “open season” on children, with cartoon characters, celebrities, promotional tie-ins, product placement, sponsorship, games, and toys all be used to market unhealthy foods to children. Candy, soft drinks, and high-fat and high-sodium foods are even marketed in elementary schools (Levine, 1999). None of these strategies are still used to promote tobacco products to children, mainly because it is illegal to sell tobacco products to minors, some states prohibit the use and possession of tobacco products by minors, and the tobacco companies themselves have either voluntarily agreed not to market to children, or have been prohibited from doing so as the result of the settlement of legal proceedings. There is good evidence to suggest that restrictions on the advertising of unhealthy foods, the promotion of healthy choices, and possibly paid counter-advertising campaigns will improve the information environment relative to the prevention of childhood obesity. It is unlikely, however, that such actions will be forthcoming from the federal government, especially the FTC. Recently, Tim Muris, a month after announcing he would step down as FTC Chairman, penned a commentary in The Wall Street Journal entitled, “Don’t