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TV Ads Hit for Fat Content

Government health officials and children’s advocates Tuesday served up a deep-fried plate of blame on TV ads for contributing to rising rates of obesity among kids.

"There’s still time to reverse this dangerous trend in our children’s lives," Surgeon General Richard Carmona told a Senate panel. Carmona said TV plays a role in poor eating habits and lack of exercise that is making kids fat. "The average child spends four hours a day in front of some type of screen," he said.

The heavy dose of TV watching and video game playing is compounded by the kinds of ads children see, said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "All the foods marketed to children are high in sugar and calories and low in nutrition," she said.

Parents have a particularly tough time saying no, she said, because the products are frequently marketed by beloved TV and movie characters like Scooby-Doo. "I certainly wish I could invite Harry Potter over for dinner to encourage my daughter to eat her zucchini."

One advocate repeated her call for strict federal government restrictions on advertising to kids. Victoria Rideout, the Kaiser Family Foundation’s director of media and health programs, called for bans on advertising to pre-schoolers, "junk" food advertising to older kids and on food placements in children’s shows. She also wants the government to permit fewer ads during children’s programs and elimination of business tax deductions for junk food ads.

Finally, she wants the private sector to donate ad time or government funds for a nutrition ad campaign.