Study links youth obesity in US to TV fast-food advertising; young Americans with obesity significantly more likely to notice, like and name the brand in fast-food ads they see on TV than non-obese peers

LEBANON, New Hampshire , October 25, 2013 (press release) – Youth obesity is associated with receptiveness to TV fast food advertising, Norris Cotton Cancer Center (NCCC) researchers found in a study published in the November issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Auden McClure MD MPH, assistant professor of Pediatrics and of Community and Family Medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine and at the Dartmouth Institute, and member of the NCCC Cancer Control Research Program, found that young people with obesity are significantly more likely to notice, like, and name the brand in fast food ads they see on television than non-obese peers. The link between youth obesity and receptiveness to TV fast food advertising held even when factors like snacking while watching TV, sugary drink intake, and frequency of visits to fast food restaurants were accounted for.

“Given the concerning rates of obesity in US youth and associated health risks, a better understanding of influences leading to obesity in youth is critical in guiding prevention and public health strategies,” said McClure. “The more we know about how marketing influences teens and young adults, the better able we are as parents and pediatricians at helping young people to navigate the influx of marketing messages and make good choices.”

A national sample of 2,541 participants between 15 and 23 years old were surveyed for the study. Respondents viewed a random subset of 20 advertisement frames (with brand names removed) selected from national TV fast-food restaurant advertisements and were then asked if they had seen the advertisement, if they liked it, and if they could name the brand. A TV fast-food advertising receptivity score (a measure of exposure and response) was assigned. Youth with higher receptivity scores were more likely to have obesity than those with lower scores.

Since this study was cross-sectional, the researchers couldn’t determine which comes first—advertising receptivity or obesity. McClure notes that further studies are needed to better understand the link between food marketing and risk for obesity, in particular studies with more extensive assessments of diet, activity, and marketing exposure.

Co-authors on the study were Suzanne E. Tanski, MD, MPH; Diane Gilbert-Diamond, ScD; Anna M Adachi-Mejia, PhD; Zhigang Li, PhD; Zhongze Li, MS; and James D. Sargent, MD.

Funding was provided by the NIH (AA015591 and CA077026 [JDS]; 1K23AA021154 – 01A1 [ACM]) and by a Synergy Scholars Award from the Dartmouth Center for Clinical and Translational Science (ACM)

About Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock

Norris Cotton Cancer Center combines advanced cancer research at Dartmouth College and the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth with patient-centered cancer care provided at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, at Dartmouth-Hitchcock regional locations in Manchester, Nashua, and Keene, NH, and St. Johnsbury, VT, and at 12 partner hospitals throughout New Hampshire and Vermont. It is one of 41 centers nationwide to earn the National Cancer Institute’s “Comprehensive Cancer Center” designation. Learn more about Norris Cotton Cancer Center research, programs, and clinical trials online at cancer.dartmouth.edu.

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