In discussions of policies aimed at reducing or preventing obesity, it is often held that children are of particular concern. This is for two reasons. Firstly consumption is, to some extent, habit forming so if we can prevent children adopting bad food ( & exercise) habits then the long run effects can be very beneficial. A second reason is that the usual consumer sovereignty argument (that people are the best judges of whats good for them) is much less compelling for children.
Making the environment less obesogenic through regulation is one type of reform that has been proposed. The paper below looks at the effect of television advertising on children’s consumption of fast food and soft drinks with some evidence that exposure to advertisements has an effect on consumption and hence their body mass index (BMI).
Exposure to food advertising on television: Associations with children’s fast food and soft drink consumption and obesity
Andreyeva, Tatiana et al. , Economics and Human Biology, July 2011
There is insufficient research on the direct effects of food advertising on children’s diet and diet-related health, particularly in non-experimental settings. We employ a nationally-representative sample from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey-Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K) and the Nielsen Company data on spot television advertising of cereals, fast food restaurants and soft drinks to children across the top 55 designated-market areas to estimate the relation between exposure to food advertising on television and children’s food consumption and body weight. Our results suggest that soft drink and fast food television advertising is associated with increased consumption of soft drinks and fast food among elementary school children (Grade 5). Exposure to 100 incremental TV ads for sugar-sweetened carbonated soft drinks during 2002-2004 was associated with a 9.4% rise in children’s consumption of soft drinks in 2004. The same increase in exposure to fast food advertising was associated with a 1.1% rise in children’s consumption of fast food. There was no detectable link between advertising exposure and average body weight, but fast food advertising was significantly associated with body mass index for overweight and obese children (>=85th BMI percentile), revealing detectable effects for a vulnerable group of children. Exposure to advertising for calorie-dense nutrient-poor foods may increase overall consumption of unhealthy food categories.