Childhood obesity and Advertising

Here I wrote about my small involvement with a campaign aimed at reducing fast food advertising to children.

And today I came across this NBER working paper which tries to measure the effect of total advertising ban to children. Now, I was pretty excited about this, simply because NBER papers are very carefully researched and, as far as I can tell, treated with great respect among policymakers, policy-planners, and thinkers of all types.

I won’t go into the methodology, because its kind of boring, but the one thing I will note is that, as these authors acknowledge, its very hard to design a good study for the effect of fast food advertising on obesity because the kids who watch the most advertisements are also the kids who watch the most TV, which as many studies have confirmed, contributes to obesity. So, is it the ads or just the excessive TV watching that’s making kids fat.

Anyway, the study comes away by concluding that reducing the fast food TV ad hours in a week by .5 hours results in 2% reduction of a childhood male’s BMI. Or, a total ban on fast food advertising would result in a 10% in obese children. Note this is not saying the obesity rate would be 10% less (like now 20% of kids are overweight and with a ban it would be 10%, no). No, its that if there are 100 obese kids, then a ban would result in there being 90 obese kids. Not a bad effect and nice to know that this campaign has some real tangible benefits.


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