Why Fast Food Commercials Should Be Banned

We don’t allow liquor and cigarette companies to advertise on television. So why should we allow fast food commercials?

Since fast food advertising plays a major role in the childhood obesity epidemic, a ban on fast food commercials might reverse the trend. In fact, past research has shown that a ban on fast food advertisements would cut number of overweight children ages 3 to 11 by 18% and drop the number of overweight adolescents ages 12 to 18 by 14%.

The good news is that kids are seeing fewer commercials for cookies, candy bars, and sugar-sweetened beverages. But the bad news is that the number of children who saw TV commercials for fast food dramatically increased between 2003 and 2007, according to an article appearing in the September print edition of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Surprisingly, public opinion — at least in England — favors limiting junk food ads on TV. Some 60% of parents thinks commercials for junk food should be restricted, according to an opinion poll by Manchester-based health campaigners Our Life.

The latest study shows that fast food ads increased from 2003-2007 by 5 percent for 2-5 year olds, 12 percent for kids 6-11 and 20 percent among the 12-to-17 year olds.

Disturbingly, black children saw 1.4-1.6 times as many food ads a day as white children did by 2007, according to the study. “African American children and teens had more than double the rate of increase in exposure to fast food ads compared with their white counterparts,” researchers wrote. Researchers used television ratings data from Nielsen Media Research for the calendar years 2003, 2005 and 2007 for the study.

Toddlers now see more commercials for McDonald’s than teenagers do and they are an easily influenced target group. Young children recognize brands and tend to want the products they see on TV (any parent can tell you that). And we all know by know that if you eat only what you see advertised on TV, you won’t be very healthy.

But as with the recent proposed ban on toys in McDonald’s Happy Meals, the question is: where does parental responsibility fit in? Sure, it’s ultimately, the parents’ job to say “no” when their kids are nagging them for fast food. But clearly, that system isn’t working. The childhood obesity epidemic is getting so extreme that extreme action needs to be taken.

What do you think? Should fast food commercials be banned — or at least limited — especially during children’s programs? Or is it up to parents’ to monitor what their kids eat?

Photo: flickr/cfinke

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