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Office for Research
Creating New Knowledge
Food Marketing and Childhood Obesity
Ellen Wartella, communication studies, is especially interested in studying public policy issues regarding media and children. For the past several years she has been studying the impact of food marketing on childhood obesity. Obesity rates among children have surged in the past 30 years—doubling for 2- to 5-year-olds and adolescents and tripling for 6- to 11-year-olds. Nearly a third of American children are obese or substantially overweight, and this has led to diabetes and many other negative health outcomes. Obese children are likely to grow up to be obese adults.
In 2006 Wartella was part of the Institute of Medicine's study panel examining food marketing's impact on children's diets; the panel found that children's diets are high in calories, fats, and sugars and low in essential nutrients. A systematic review of 200 studies of television advertising's effects on children's diets concluded that TV advertising is strongly associated with children's food preferences, purchase requests, and food choices, but it stopped short of drawing a causal relationship between TV advertising and adiposity of fatness in children.
Recently, with colleagues from the 2006 panel, she reviewed the impact of that study and found that the industry has made moderate progress in changing the foods marketed to children. This progress includes the establishment of the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, which now includes 17 food and beverage companies that have pledged to establish nutritional standards for any foods marketed to children through any venue (TV advertising, cell phones, Internet, in store) so as to increase healthier foods and decrease the incidence of unhealthy food marketing to children. Another indication is the evidence of food reformulations and new, healthier products, such as 100-calorie snack packs. The industry could move further—and a rising public interest in healther food options and obesity prevention should help this process.
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