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Has Advertising Increased the Prevalence of Childhood Obesity?

Has Advertising Increased the Prevalence of Childhood Obesity?

A study conducted shows that promotions of unhealthy foods and drinks can cause obesity in children.

A study conducted by researchers at the Open University of Catalonia and the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona has showed that there is a correlation between nutritional values and advertising strategies for surgery drinks. In other words, the research that was published in May in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, shows that the promotion of sugary drinks and other unhealthy food may be causing an increase in childhood obesity.

The study was conducted in Spain, which ranks fifth in the list of European countries with the highest childhood obesity rates. Sugar-sweetened beverages are consumed by 81 percent of Spanish children weekly.

“The aim of this study is to find associations between advertisements for sugar-sweetened beverages and soft drinks in different media (TV, leaflets, radio, Internet, etc.), the language used, and the products’ low nutritional value. To do so, we selected campaigns carried out by the top 10 companies in these categories between 2013 and 2018 in Spain,” the authors state.

Various countries in Europe have placed some regulations to control the content of advertising directed at children. In the UK, any companies promoting food and drinks that are high in fat, sugar or salt on children’s television with an audience of more than 25 percent under the age of 16, are banned from creating promotional content. In Sweden, TV advertising of high-fat and high-sugar products is banned during programming that appeals to children under the age of 12.

The reason that there are various regulations on advertising is to curb the rates of childhood obesity. This is a growing problem that has been recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO), with childhood obesity rates tripling since 1975. There are over 340 million children between the age five and 19 that are overweight or obese.

In the current study, the researchers analyzed 78 products that featured in 4,956 advertisements that were presented on various mediums such as, radio, internet, television, press, magazines, outdoors and at the cinema.

“The authors [of the study] applied a mixed-methods approach that included a quantitative analysis of advertising spend data, a content analysis and a study of the discursive strategies used in advertisements. In addition, the Nutri-score system was used to determine the nutritional quality of the beverages.”

The results of the study indicate that none of the advertisements analysed referred to product’s intrinsic properties, as determined by the regulatory framework established by the PAOS strategy. This strategy is the standard for the prevention of childhood obesity that regulates advertising aimed at children under 12.

The study states, “that in order to reduce and prevent childhood obesity in Spain, there is a need for tighter advertising regulation, especially with regard to the language used to present products and celebrity endorsements.”

The American Physiological Association states that the impact of food advertising on childhood obesity is a serious public health problem that increases morbidity, mortality and has substantial long-term economic and social costs.

Approximately 20 percent of the youths in America are now overweight with obesity rates in preschool age children increasing at an unprecedented rate. Obesity in childhood can increase the risk of these children being obese as adults, which can lead to poor health and weight-related conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer.

Furthermore, nowadays, children absorb multiple forms of media and spend extensive amounts of time in front of computer screens, television screens and game screens.

Unfortunately, children under the age of six are unable to distinguish between programming and advertising. Children under the age of eight, also, do not understand the persuasive intent of advertising.

This is why it is important to regulate advertising directed at children for products that are high in sugar and high in fat to limit the influence of children wanting to purchase products that are unhealthy and can increase the rates of obesity.