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02-05-2012 | General practice | Article

Familiarity with fast-food ads linked to youth obesity

Abstract

Meeting website

MedWire News: Familiarity with fast-food advertising is significantly associated with obesity in US adolescents, show data presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies Annual Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, this week.

"We know that children and adolescents are highly exposed to fast-food restaurant advertising, particularly on television (TV). This study links obesity in young people to familiarity with this advertising, suggesting that youth who are aware of and receptive to televised fast-food marketing may be at risk for health consequences," said lead author Auden McClure (Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, New Hampshire, USA) in a press statement.

The researchers surveyed 2359 adolescents aged 15-23 years about their height, weight, age, gender, race, socioeconomic status, exercise, consumption of soda or sweet drinks, frequency of eating at fast-food restaurants, how many hours they spend watching TV each day, and whether they snack while watching TV.

They also were shown 20 still images selected from TV adverts for the top 25 fast-food companies that aired in the year before the survey. The images were digitally edited to remove the brands. Each individual was given a food advert recognition-recall (FARR) score with 1 point for having seen the advert, 1 for liking it, and 2 for identifying the brand.

According to the self-reported height and weight data, 15.7% of participants were overweight and 13.6% were obese. Approximately 70% reported soda consumption and 96% TV snacking, while 14% reported no exercise of more than 60 minutes in the past week.

FARR scores ranged from 0-65 and increased significantly with increasing weight, from a mean of 21.4 in normal-weight participants to 22.3 and 23.7 in overweight and obese participants, respectively.

In multivariate analysis, adjusted for age, race, gender, parent education, daily soda/sweet drink consumption, exercise, and TV snacking, each 1 point increase in FARR score was associated with a 3% increase in the likelihood for obesity.

The researchers note, however, that eating more frequently at fast-food restaurants depicted in the adverts was not associated with obesity.

"The relation between fast-food marketing and obesity is not simply that it prompts more quick-serve restaurant visits," said study co-author James Sargent, also from the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Instead, "individuals who are more familiar with these ads may have food consumption patterns that include many types of high-calorie food brands, or they may be especially sensitive to visual cues to eat while watching TV."

"More research is necessary to determine how fast-food ad familiarity is linked to obesity," he added.

McClure concluded: "Given the broad exposure of youth to advertising, the more we know about how media and marketing affect young people, the better equipped we are as pediatricians and parents to guide them in making healthy diet choices."

By Laura Cowen

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