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Study Links Youth Obesity to TV Fast Food Advertising

Youth obesity is associated with receptiveness to TV fast food advertising, Norris Cotton Cancer Center (NCCC) researchers found in a study published in the November issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Auden McClure, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of pediatrics and of community and family medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine and at the Dartmouth Institute, and member of the NCCC Cancer Control Research Program, found that young people with obesity are significantly more likely to notice, like, and name the brand in fast food ads they see on television than nonobese peers. The link between youth obesity and receptiveness to TV fast food advertising held even when factors like snacking while watching TV, sugary drink intake, and frequency of visits to fast food restaurants were accounted for.

“Given the concerning rates of obesity in U.S. youths and associated health risks, a better understanding of influences leading to obesity in youth is critical in guiding prevention and public health strategies,” says McClure. “The more we know about how marketing influences teens and young adults, the better able we are as parents and pediatricians at helping young people to navigate the influx of marketing messages and make good choices.”

A national sample of 2,541 participants between 15 and 23 years old were surveyed for the study. Respondents viewed a random subset of 20 advertisement frames (with brand names removed) selected from national TV fast-food restaurant advertisements and were then asked if they had seen the advertisement, if they liked it, and if they could name the brand. A TV fast-food advertising receptivity score (a measure of exposure and response) was assigned. Youths with higher receptivity scores were more likely to have obesity than those with lower scores.

Since this study was cross-sectional, the researchers couldn’t determine which comes first—advertising receptivity or obesity. McClure notes that further studies are needed to better understand the link between food marketing and risk for obesity, in particular studies with more extensive assessments of diet, activity, and marketing exposure.

— Source: Norris Cotton Cancer CenterDartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center