Should fast food ads on TV be banned?

The American Academy of Pediatrics wants to curb childhood obesity by banning junk food commercials during kid-friendly shows

Most people know that spending hours on the couch watching TV can be unhealthy, but a doctors group says the junk food commercials are negatively influencing kids' eating habits, too.
(Image credit: Pat Doyle/CORBIS)

It goes without saying that sitting in front of the television isn't much of a weight-loss strategy. But, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the sedentary nature of TV-watching isn't the only problem with cartoon marathons. The numerous ads for junk food influence children's eating habits, and contribute to the childhood obesity epidemic. "We created a perfect storm between media use, junk and fast food advertising, and physical inactivity," says AAP's Dr. Victor Strasburger in a statement. Now, the AAP is calling on Congress and the Federal Trade Commission to "get tough with the food industry" and ban fast food advertisement during children's programming, a move that could potentially decrease the number of obese and overweight children by as much as 17 percent. Do we need this ban?

No. Self-regulation is working: "If advertising caused obesity, why have obesity rates increased while television advertising has dropped significantly?" asks a Council for Better Businesses statement, as quoted by Health News. Our industry group launched a voluntary initiative in 2006, and since then, the mix of ads on children's programs has substantially improved. Many ads are for healthy foods like milk, juice, and vegetables. There isn't any substantial evidence to merit a ban, and we should just keep doing what we're doing. It's working.

"UPDATED: Will a ban on junk good ads curb childhood obesity?"

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C'mon, voluntary regulation isn't enough: "Allowing the food industry to self regulate is like leaving the fox in charge of the henhouse," says Melissa Sweet at Croakey. Junk food peddlers have a vested interest in selling their products to kids, and they'll find ways to work around voluntary regulation. There's clear and "consistent evidence" demonstrating the influence that marketing has on what children eat, and "it's time for this sugar coated voluntary code to be scrapped and replaced with clear and meaningful government regulations that protect children."

"Junk food advertising to kids: it's time to call it a day"

Still, ads are only part of the problem: "Will banning advertising really curb obesity?" asks Drucilla Dyess at Health News. "Screen time and advertising are only one component in childhood weight gain." Just look at the rising number of obese adults. If they can't learn to eat better and exercise, how can we expect kids to do so — no matter what's on the TV?

"UPDATED: Will a ban on junk cood ads curb childhood obesity?"

But they are hugely influential: "The average American child sees nearly 8,000 commercials on TV for food and beverages [annually], and only 165 of these are for nutritious options like fruits and vegetables," says Alice Park at TIME. We can't underestimate the tremendous influence advertising has on kids. Parents should watch TV with their kids to talk about what is and isn't healthy. We should also "spend money on researching how we can maximize the good effects of media and minimize its bad effects."

"It's the ads, stupid: Why TV leads to obesity"

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