McChildren: The Influence of Advertising in Childhood Obesity

Jun 07, 2005


Dr. Todd Zywicki 
Professor of Law
George Mason University

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American children are getting fatter.  Studies suggest that 15 to 30 percent of U.S. children are overweight.  Childhood obesity has doubled in the last twenty-five years.  These alarming numbers and their subsequent threat to public health have caused some policymakers to express concern about food advertising directed at children.  If feasible, would restricting food advertising do anything to reduce obesity in children or even slow its trends?  Would the social benefits of banning advertising outweigh the social costs of such an action?

To address this issue, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University will host a Distinguished Scholar Luncheon, featuring Dr. Todd Zywicki, to analyze the available evidence regarding children’s exposure to food advertising.  Dr. Zywicki will present his working paper, entitled Obesity and Advertising Policy.  In this seminar, Dr. Zywicki will address the following questions:

  • What are the existing theories and empirical evidence regarding the causal factors in the American obesity problem? How does American childhood obesity compare to global childhood obesity?
  • Does the available evidence support the theory that children’s exposure to food advertising significantly contributes to the increase in child obesity?  Are children exposed to more food advertising today than in decades past?
  • Can advertising be a part of the solution to childhood obesity?  Can it provide incentives to create and market healthier food alternatives?