Fat Kids, Fast Foods and Advertising: Who’s to Blame?

Overweight child with fast food

Will banning fast food ads help children eat better?

Children are increasingly overweight in many countries around the world. Overweight kids can lead to health problems in childhood, and even more as they age. Fast food is one of the most heavily advertised product categories that targets children. Studies show that advertising impacts behavior and several countries are considering banning fast food advertising to kids due to concerns over a link between fast foods and obesity.
A 2009 study published online on April, 2011 by the Journal of Market Research investigated fast food purchases in Quebec, Canada, which had instituted a ban against advertising fast foods to children a number of years ago. In particular, the researchers, Tirtha Dhar and Kathy Baylis, looked at whether fast food purchases were lower in households affected by the advertising ban. Indeed they found it had decreased the “propensity” to consume fast food by 13%, and they also believed that this tendency to eat less fast food lasted into adulthood. Overall, the authors estimate that the ban reduced fast food consumption by US$88 million per year.
So, advertisements were banned, less fast foods were consumed, but did this mean less children were overweight? The researchers said they were not sure, although they noted that Québec has one of the lowest childhood obesity rates in Canada even though the kids also have one of the most sedentary lifestyles.
Is banning advertising the answer to less overweight kids? Are there others as well? Should healthier fast foods be offered in restaurants? Fruits, vegetables and whole grain products can be really fast. Should children be taught how to eat better?

– Dhar, T and Baylis, K. 2009. Fast Food Consumption and the Ban on Advertising Targeting Children: The Québec Experience. J Market Res. Posted online April 2011.

— Claudia O’Donnell, Global Food Forums, a conference and seminar organizer