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How tV Advertising is Influencing Your Child’s Weight

Have you have ever watched a television ad that made food look so tasty that you left home to get it or immediately called it in for delivery? You are not alone—food advertising works! The food industry is smart and knows how to appeal to not only your palate but your child’s. In fact, a growing body of data suggests advertising is not just influencing children, it’s also making them overweight.

On average, children view an estimated 3,000 ads per day on television, billboards, magazines, and the Internet, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Advertisers frequently use techniques and tactics to specifically attract children: one-fifth of all fast-food television ads mention a toy in their advertisements.

Unfortunately, television advertisements for food products are rarely for the healthiest food choices. While you seldom see an ad for apples or broccoli, you will see plenty for pizza and hamburgers. An estimated 3 percent of all food-related advertisements are for healthy foods.

In a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers studied more than 2,541 young people ages 15 to 23. Participants were asked to identify pictures of fast food advertisements that had the brand names removed. The participants were asked if they had seen the ad, how they felt about the ad and if they knew the brand. The more questions the respondents correctly answered, the higher their “receptivity score” was. Receptivity is a measurement of exposure to something, such as an advertisement, and the likelihood a person responds to it, such as through buying the foods advertised. The participants were then assigned a score that was compared to their weight. The researchers found that the higher a person’s television receptivity, the more likely the young person was to be overweight.

Another study published in the journal BMC Public Health from the UCLA Department of Family Medicine found the higher the number of outdoor advertisements (billboards and the like) for foods the greater the likelihood is for the neighborhood’s residents to be overweight.

While your kids cannot ride to school blindfolded or avoid food advertisements entirely, it’s important to explain to them what television ads are intended to do when they are old enough. Educate them on the fact that they are targeting children specifically and that there are delicious, healthier options out there beyond what is on TV.

If possible, limit your child’s exposure to TV commercials entirely by selecting what they watch and how much screen time they have each day. Encourage healthy, delicious options at home and model the food behaviors you’d like to see in your kids.


  • The American Academy of Pediatrics
  • Children, Adolescents and Advertising.
    American Journal of Preventive Medicine
  • Receptivity to Television Fast-Food Restaurant Marketing and Obesity Among U.S
  • Youth.
    Institute of Food Technologists
  • Childhood Obesity May Be Linked to TV Fast Food Advertising.
    The New York Times
  • Does This Ad Make Me Look Fat?
    UCLA Newsroom
  • Outdoor Fast Food Ads Could Promote Obesity, Study Finds.
    Yale University
  • Advertising Effects of Television Food Advertising on Eating Behaviors.

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