Tv Advertising and Children

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Article (refereed)

Sonia Livingstone Does TV advertising make children fat? : what the evidence tells us

Originally published in Public policy research, 13 (1). pp. 54-61 © 2006 Blackwell Publishing. You may cite this version as: Livingstone, Sonia (2006). Does TV advertising make children fat : what the evidence tells us [online]. London: LSE Research Online. Available at: Available in LSE Research Online: May 2007 LSE has developed LSE Research Online so that users may access research output of the School. Copyright © and Moral Rights for the papers on this site are retained by the individual authors and/or other copyright owners. Users may download and/or print one copy of any article(s) in LSE Research Online to facilitate their private study or for non-commercial research. You may not engage in further distribution of the material or use it for any profit-making activities or any commercial gain. You may freely distribute the URL ( of the LSE Research Online website.

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Does TV advertising make children fat? What the evidence tells us Sonia Livingstone In: Public Policy Research, 13(1), 54-61 Rising obesity among children There is growing public concern over rising levels of obesity among children, in the UK and many other countries in the developed world, as World Health Organisation reports have warned (as illustrated by 2003). The Royal College of Physicians reports that obesity has doubled among two to four year olds between 1989 and 1998, and trebled among six to fifteen year olds between 1990 and 2002. Similarly, in the USA, obesity among six to nineteen year olds has trebled over the past four decades, to 16 per cent in 1999-2002, while the incidence of type 2 diabetes has doubled in the past decade, with notable increases also in the risk of heart disease, stroke, circulatory problems, some cancers, osteoporosis and blindness. The evidence of rising obesity, it seems, is beyond question. The explanation is less clear. The USA’s Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) Committee on Food Marketing and the Diets of Children and Youth observed in their major report to Congress (2005), children’s diets “result from the interplay of many factors… all of which, apart from genetic predispositions, have undergone significant transformations over the past three decades”. In other words, researchers are generally agreed that multiple factors account for childhood obesity, including individual, social, environmental and cultural factors (Story, Neumark-Sztainer, & French, 2002). These factors are, for the most part, subject to change, and many of them interact with each other in complex ways not yet well understood. One consequence is that policy decisions regarding intervention are highly contested, for multiple stakeholders, with competing interests, are involved. It is in this context that this essay focuses on just one putative explanation for childhood obesity, namely food promotion, particularly television advertising of foods high in fact, salt or sugar. It asks one key question: is the evidence base linking advertising to children’s health sufficient to guide policy decisions? Why blame television advertising? All agree that the food industry is a major player in the advertising market. The total UK advertising spending per annum in the categories of food, soft drinks and chain restaurants is £743 million, with £522 million spent on television advertising and £32 million spent in children’s airtime (Ofcom, 2004). In the USA, figures are much greater: for...
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