Kids’ Familiarity with Fast-Food Advertising Associated with Weight Issues

Two children watch televisionParents, educators, and pediatricians have long expressed concern about the effects fast-food advertising has on children. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that, on average, children watch four hours of television each day and that they see an average of 20,000 commercials every year.  According to a new study, those advertisements work. Children who are familiar with fast-food logos and other advertising are more likely to encounter weight problems.

Food Advertising and Weight

To evaluate the effects of unhealthy-food advertising, researchers interviewed 3- to 5-year-olds about their knowledge of fast-food logos and other food brands. The children had to pair food-related marketing materials such as logos and cartoon characters with the foods the marketing materials represented. Children who were highly familiar with fast-food and other unhealthy food brands were more likely to have a high body mass index (BMI). This finding is extremely important for the fight to reduce obesity, since obese children are at an increased risk of becoming obese adults. 

Researchers did find that children who exercised were less likely to have a high BMI, even if those children were familiar with fast-food marketing materials. However, in a second study group, researchers were unable to duplicate these results related to exercise. 

Limiting the Effects of Advertising on Children

Advertising is everywhere. Many children pass dozens of billboards and signs on the way to school, and an advertisement may be your screen saver on your tablet. It’s impossible to completely shield children from advertising, but parents can take the following steps to limit advertising’s reach:

  • Talk to your child about advertising in an age-appropriate way, and ensure he or she understands that an ad is not a presentation of facts.
  • Talk to your child about what he or she watches on television and sees online.
  • Limit your child’s time spent watching television and using the Internet. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that children under the age of 2 should not watch television at all—even educational TV.
  • Consider using a DVR to record your child’s favorite shows so that you can easily fast-forward through commercials.
  • Recognize that very young children can’t easily differentiate between commercials and entertainment, so they may need supervision and lots of assistance to tell the difference. Plan on helping your child recognize the difference until at least the age of 8. 


  1. Advertising to children. (n.d.). Advertising Educational Foundation. Retrieved from
  2. Bissonnette, Z. (2011, September 9). How to Protect Your Kids from Commercial Culture. TIME. Retrieved from
  3. Oswald, T., & McAlister, A. (2014, June 27). Kids Who Know Unhealthy Food Logos More Likely to Be Overweight. Retrieved from

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  • Janie


    July 3rd, 2014 at 11:43 AM

    I understand that weight concerns are a huge issue in our country, but I also understand capitalism and the need to make a buck.

    What are the companies supposed to do, stop advertising? They are not the ones putting the food into the kids mouths, it is us as consumers who are making these choices for them.

    There are right ways and wrong ways to go about all of this but pointing the finger at the industry is not the end all solution to thsi problem. There are multiples factors that must be examined.

  • Brendan


    July 3rd, 2014 at 12:47 PM

    The thing that you have to think about Janie is that these companies still have a responsibility to the consumer of any age to be a truthful company.
    If the things that they are saying are not the truth or they are trying to knowingly manipulate young consumers then this is just wrong.

  • paula


    July 4th, 2014 at 12:36 PM

    What should be up for even greater debate is how much time we let our kids sit and vegetate in front of the television. Parents have a responsibility to cut that cord and make the children go outside and play instead of plopping them down in front of the tv when they need to get something done.

  • Malin


    July 6th, 2014 at 5:40 AM

    There could be so many other issues at play that it is hard for me to believe that fast food advertising is the one big thing that is causing our nation’s health and obesity issues. Yes, I know that they can play a role but someone is buying this food for the kids and it isn’t with their piggy bank allownces most of the time! We want for there to be an easy answer and to have big business to blame, and they do play a role, but have we looked in the mirror lately to determine what role the rest of us are playing in this battle too? Most of us are too busy pointing the finger elsewhere to take any responsibility for it as well. It’s a problem, to be sure, but it is one that has multiple facets, whether we are willing to believe or see that or not.

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