Childhood obesity, particularly in the United States, has become a rising problem that is detrimental because its effects carry on into adulthood. Over the last thirty years, the prevalence of overweight children and adolescents in America has more than doubled. Children and adolescents are increasingly engaged in sedentary behavior, spending less time exercising outdoors and more time watching television and playing video games. Television viewing may contribute to childhood obesity both by reducing energy expenditure from displacement of physical activity, increasing energy intake from increased snacking during television viewing or as a result of exposure to food advertising. The contributions of commercial advertising of foods and its effects on children and adolescents becoming overweight is an ongoing problem. This paper will explore the relationship between the exposure to fast-food restaurant advertising on television and childhood obesity.
Behavioral and environmental factors are large contributors to the obesity epidemic and also the most easily modifiable causes of obesity among children (Nestle, par. 1). Television viewing is suspected to be one potential contributor to childhood obesity through several possible avenues. First, television viewing time will displace time spent engaging in physical activity. The sedentary nature of watching television further encourages one to consume unhealthy foods. Moreover, being exposed to food advertisements on television, children and adolescents are more prone to developing unhealthy dietary habits that are likely to carryover into adulthood.
In periods during which childhood obesity increased drastically, there was an increased amount of time spent watching television and an increased exposure to food advertising by children and adolescents. Around 1950, only 2 percent of households in the United States had television sets; by the early 1990s, 98 percent of households owned at least one, and over 60 percent had cable television (CDC, 2006). The number increased to 30, 000 per year in the late 1980s and more than 40,000 per year in the late 1990s (APA, 2004). Moreover, the majority of advertisements targeted at children are ones of food with minimum nutritional value: candy (32 percent of all children?s ads), cereal (31 percent) and fast-food restaurants (9 percent) (CDC, 2006).
In recent years, the United States food and beverage industry has viewed children and adolescents as a major market force. As a result of this, children and adolescents are the targets in fast-food marketing and advertising efforts. Food marketers? great interests are youths because of their power to spend, their purchase influence, and their consumption in the future as adults. The food and beverage industry has several techniques of use to reach youth, starting when they are toddlers, to promote food brands and product purchase. These techniques include television commercials, in-school promotion, the world-wide web, toys, and proper placement of products in stores. The foods advertised to children are mostly high in sugar and fat, and are not in agreement with national dietary recommendations.
While prior studies have confirmed correlations between television watching and obesity in children, few have looked at the effect that fast-food restaurant advertising on television per se might have on childhood obesity. Several studies reviewed by the Kaiser Family Foundation (2004) indirectly pointed to the positive relationship between television advertising and caloric intake. For example, Giammattei et al. (2003) found that middle-school children who watched more television tended to consume more soft drinks, a possible consequence of exposure to food advertising on television.
Among potentially important contributors to a positive energy balance, fast-food restaurant advertising on television is the main focus of this research. Children are easily molded by what they see in television commercials. Seemingly, the more children watch television, the more they specifically request the brand-name products that are advertised on television when at the grocery store. Moreover, children, especially younger ones, may not be able to distinguish advertisements from regular programs and have little understanding of their persuasive intent. Nevertheless, the effect of television advertising on childhood obesity is complex, dealing with the interplay between the characteristics of the children, the attitudes of their parents, and environmental settings.
Advertising is a key factor in marketing the food supply in the United States. Marketing is defined as an activity an organization engages in to facilitate an exchange between itself and its customers/clients (McCall, 2003). Food is the second largest advertised item in the United States economy (the first being the automotive industry) and is also the largest purchaser of television, newspaper, magazine, billboard, and radio advertisements (Gallo, 177).