Bigger Waistline Know Taglines

Fast food advertising recognition among youths linked to higher obesity rates

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Think outside the bun for some finger lickin' good food. Head for the border and have it your way. And if you recognized all those taglines, you might be more likely to be obese.

Although past research has shown a link between TV watching and obesity, less evidence exists regarding possible links between obesity and fast food advertising.

But an unpublished study recently presented at a conference offers just that.

"Limit your child's access to fast food."

Auden McClure, MD, an assistant professor of the Department of Pediatrics at Children's Hospital at Dartmouth, led the study to find out whether teens and young adults who recognized fast food advertising were any more likely to be obese.

The researchers surveyed 3,342 young Americans, aged 15 to 23, whose demographics represented those of the nation.

The final results included 2,359 who had complete data that could be analyzed. This group included 15.7 percent who were overweight and 13.6 percent who were obese.

The researchers then collected 535 fast food commercials that had been aired the previous year for the top 25 fast food companies. They then selected one still image from each ad and removed the branding so that the company associated with the ad was not identifiable.

They split these ads into random sets of 20 and showed them to the youths surveyed, giving a point value to each ad for the extent the young person recognized the ad.

If the youth said they had seen the ad before, that was one point. If they liked the ad, that was another point. Two points were given if they could identify the brand.

Those interviewed who had higher point tallies were also those more likely to be obese, even when a wide range of factors were taken into account, such as age, race, gender, their parents' educational level, how many soft drinks or sweet drinks they consumed, how much they exercised, and how much they snacked while watching TV.

"After accounting for overall TV time, TV ad familiarity was still linked with obesity suggesting that this finding is not simply due to increased sedentary time or an effect of TV programming," said Dr. McClure.

The vast majority - 96 percent - reported snacking while watching TV, 70 percent drank soft drinks regularly and 14 percent reported that they had not exercised for more than 60 minutes in the past week.

The scores on the assessments that related to how much the youths remembered or recognized about the ads ranged from 0 to 65. The respondents of normal weight had an average score of 21.5.

Overweight respondents' average score was 22.3 and obese respondents' average score was 23.7. Approximately 17 percent of the obese youths recognized a high number of ads compared to 8.3 percent of young people who were a normal weight.

The researchers had also included ads for alcohol but found no associations between obesity and the youths' recognition of these ads.

They also did not find a link between those who were obese and those who reported eating more frequently at fast food restaurants whose commercials were included.

"The relation between fast-food marketing and obesity is not simply that it prompts more quick-serve restaurant visits," said co-author James Sargent, MD, also a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Children's Hospital at Dartmouth.

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

The study was presented April 29 at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Boston. Information regarding funding or potential author conflicts of interest was unavailable.

The study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, which means other scientists have not had a chance to review the methods and data to ensure it passes their quality standards.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 30, 2012
Last Updated:
May 10, 2012