Research Proposal: Child Obesity and Advertisement in U.S

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Obesity in Children/Adolescents and the Impact of Advertising

Child Obesity & Advertisement in the U.S.

The threat of obesity is at an all-time high for U.S. children and adolescents. All indicators show that this present generation of children will become the most obese generation of adults in the history of the U.S. What is more, there is the belief that the next generation of children is likely to be even fatter and less physically fit than the present generation. The United States has seen the number of obese adolescents triple since 1980 and the pervasiveness among younger children has also more than doubled since 1980 (New World Communications, Inc. 2008). Warren et al. (2008) reports that over the last 30 years, "the percentage of U.S. children classified as overweight and obese has more than tripled" (2008). The American Academy of Pediatrics states that there are very similar increased in medical complications as a result of childhood obesity such as "Type 2 diabetes, respiratory illness, hypertension, sleep disorders, and depression" (2008).

Obesity affects certain minority youth populations in a uneven way as well. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that African-American and Mexican-American adolescents ages 12 to 19 were more likely to be overweight, at 21 and 23% respectively, than non-Hispanic white adolescents (14%) (2008). Television advertisement of unhealthy foods has been associated to the unhealthy eating patterns of children. Advertisers of unhealthy foods direct their advertisements at children so that children will buy those foods. Half of all television advertisements promote food (Gantz 2007). Banning unhealthy food advertisements that target children would reduce the number of overweight children in the United States.

Media-related commercial marketing aimed at promoting the purchase of products and services by children, and by adults for children, is ubiquitous and has been associated with negative health consequences such as poor nutrition and physical inactivity (Evans 2008).

When we look at obesity form a purely scientific perspective, obesity occurs when there is more energy intake than energy expenditure over a long period of time. We cannot believe that this problem is simply due to genetics as the substantial increase in obese children and adolescents over the past two decades is not enough time for our genes to change so dramatically. Thus, it can be posited that environmental factors are related to the increase in childhood and adolescent weight gain. Environmental factors, such as the fact that there is an abundance of highly appetizing and calorie dense food available and advertisers direct these palatable food advertisements toward children. When this is coupled with the appeal of television and the Internet (where advertising is also geared toward children on certain Websites), what is created is a discouragement of energy expenditure. More and more children and adolescents are spending less time out of doors exercising as compared with the level of exercise twenty years ago. Sedentary behavior is now the norm for children who prefer to watch television and play video games. When we consider that children are spending vast amounts of time in front of the television or a computer where they are being bombarded with palatable food advertisements, there is no doubt that these advertisements are having a detrimental effect on a child's weight. While we may not be able to see the problem fully currently, the consequences of child and adolescent obesity will, undoubtedly, be seen in the next generation. The increase in overweight children has also been linked to an increase in type 2 diabetes in the pediatric population (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences 2007).

Fahlman, Dake, McCaughtry and Martin (2008) studied the behavioral patterns established in childhood and explored the way that certain behavioral patterns may carry on into adulthood. One of the most obvious behavioral patterns is eating. They discovered that "overweight adolescents have an 80% chance of becoming overweight adults, and many of them carry obesity-related morbidities with them into adulthood with grave consequences" (2008). Intervention at an early age is needed in order to prevent and reverse these detrimental consequences in children (and later in their adulthood) (2008).

How the commercial advertising of foods plays a part in the epidemic of obesity among children and adolescents is still up for debate. There is the very common belief that exposure via advertising to these kinds of unhealthy foods may play a role in unhealthy food choices, which then leads to weight gain. There is lacking evidence to directly relate television food advertising and childhood obesity, nevertheless, countries such as Finland, Norway, Sweden and the UK have banned commercial sponsorship of children's programs. The UK, facing a similar as the U.S. with the problem of obesity, promulgated regulations in 2007 banning the advertisement of foods high in fat, sodium, and sugar during programming directed at children below the age of 16 (Darwin 2009).

Sweden does not allow any television advertising targeting children under the age of 12 (Gantz 2007).

In the United States, companies like Kraft Foods have cut back on advertising targeting children in the hope of encouraging smarter eating choices (Mayer 2005). Unfortunately, there have been drawbacks. The Bush Administration, for one, argued that there was no proof to illustrate that advertising causes obesity and thus it did not take any action in regulating advertising directed at children. This was after the World Health Organization (WHO) proposed that countries limit advertisements that promote unhealthy diets -- especially those advertisements that directly targeted children.

There have been several intervention programs that have provided links to school food services and families to decrease the consumption of foods high in total and saturated fat, to increase fruit and vegetable intake as well as reduce television viewing and increase physical exercise (Lindsay et al. 2006), however, results have proved to be rather ineffectual if we consider that child and adolescent obesity rates are still on the rise. This leads us to believe that there is more drastic measures that need to be taken and these measures will most likely need government enforcement to ban advertisements of unhealthy foods targeting children and adolescents. New initiatives like the "Let's Move" campaign, started by Michelle Obama in order to combat childhood obesity (Wojcicki & Heyman 2010), hope to empower "parents and consumers by revamping the nutritional labeling of products" by the USDA (2010).

Mello et al. (2006) states in an article in The New England Journal of Medicine entitled "Obesity -- the new frontier of public health law," that the "law is now firmly established as a powerful instrument of public health" (2006). The article posits that public health law can be used to produce conditions that will allow individuals to live healthier lives and that "the government has both the power and the duty to regulate private behavior in order to promote public health" (2006). In relation to children and advertising, the FTC initiated an effort in 1978 to regulate television advertising of foods that contained high amounts of sugar directed toward children (2006). The commission posited that advertising to children is not fair, but rather, it is deceptive "because they lack the cognitive ability to understand the bias inherent in advertising" (2006).

Caprio (2006) sees the key to treating childhood obesity fundamentally lies in developing and funding a targeted research agenda (2006). This research will focus on the biology and physiology of regulating appetite during childhood's different developmental stages as well as "gender and ethnicity differences in body composition and fat distribution" (2006)

The purpose of this paper is to explore the causal relationship between exposure to unhealthy food advertising and childhood and adolescent obesity. The paper will employ the use of flashcards with logos/brands on them to be shown to parents and children/adolescents to explore the relationship between logo popularity/image and the influence that they have on buying certain unhealthy foods and beverages. The research will also use a questionnaire to explore how parental attitudes and influences shape the food choices for children and adolescents as well.

METHODS.

Participants

The paper will conduct random surveys of parents and children's views on advertising and the influence advertisements may contribute to obesity (3). ) Children are the target of marketing communicators that include television, print ads, package designs and web ads. Television advertising remains the primary medium for food and beverage products, as compared with measured media (Francis, Lee, & Birch, 2003). The method used for this research will be interpretive. The site for this study is a school-based nurse managed clinic. A random survey will take place during weight management intervention. This weight management clinic is in an underserved area in central Illinois. This clinic provides health care services to children up to 21 years of age who reside in a predominately-urban school district. The school district is composed of 70% African-American, 17% Hispanic and 11% Caucasian children.

Seventy two percent of the school-aged children are eligible for the federally supported free or reduced lunch programs. To be eligible for this study you must be between the age of five and 18. Parents… [END OF PREVIEW]

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