NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 18, 2006

Does fast food advertising contribute to childhood obesity?  Researchers Shin-Yi Chou, Inas Rashad and Michael Grossman used data from an advertising tracking service and two surveys to estimate the effect of fast food advertising on the weight of individual children. 

According to the researchers:

  • When time watching television is taken into account, the number of hours of fast food advertising per week has no significant impact on weight for either children ages 3-11 or teenagers ages 12-18.
  • When time watching television is excluded, a half hour increase in advertising seen in a week increases the probability of being overweight by 1.6 percentage points for boys, and by 1.1 percentage points for girls ages 3-11.
  • When time watching television is excluded for teenagers, the probability of being overweight increases by 3.2 percentage points for girls and 0.6 percentage points for boys.
  • In terms of body mass index, an additional half hour of advertising is estimated to increase a boy's BMI by 2 percent and a girl's BMI by 1 percent.

Other results:

  • For children ages 3-11, BMI increases with age, but the probability of being overweight decreases.
  • Hispanic boys and Black girls are more likely to be overweight.
  • Children from higher income families are significantly less likely to be overweight.
  • Mother's weight is a strong predictor of a child's body mass index and the probability of being overweight.
  • For teenagers, mother's weight is "strongly associated" with the probability of being overweight as is "being a black female."

In discussing possible solutions, the authors found that eliminating tax-deductible advertising would increase advertising costs by 54 percent, but reduce the number of overweight children and adolescents by 5 and 3 percent respectively.

Source: Linda Gorman, "TV, Fast Foods, and Childhood Obesity," NBER Digest Online, August 2006; based upon: Shin-Yi Chou, Inas Rashad, Michael Grossman, "Fast-Food Restaurant Advertising on Television and Its Influence on Childhood Obesity," National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 11879, December 2005.

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