Television Advertising and Childhood Obesity, Part 1

Kill Your TV

Some people in Scotland think that junk food advertising now needs to be completely eliminated from television. Since 2007, such ads have been banned from appearing during children’s programs, but now,

[…] health campaigners say kids are still susceptible to seeing adverts during adult shows before the 9pm watershed and have called for a total ban.

Journalist Helen McArdle reports on this for Herald Scotland. It seems that a coalition of researchers from the United Kingdom, Australia and Sweden theorize that the absence of junk food advertising would have a salutary effect on children from six to 11 years of age.

Dr. Emmanuel Stamatakis, whose academic home is University College London, was one of the authorities quoted. He believes that there is a “good chance” that childhood obesity is significantly impacted by TV advertising. In his view, even if a total junk-food advertising ban would only help less than 10 percent of obese kids, it’s reason enough to carry out the ban. And that is a very good point indeed.

If it works, it works. Let’s get empirical. If a solution works for even a small percentage of the afflicted, let’s bring it into the materia medica. Let’s welcome that solution, and implement it.

No solution to anything will ever work for everyone. Some solutions work for a lot of people, and some for a few. Some people’s problems are invulnerable to solution. We can only do what we can do. One of the things we can do is make stricter rules about advertising, and try to reconcile that with whatever views about freedom we might hold.

On the other hand, when issues like freedom of speech are brought into the equation, it opens up another can of worms. Free speech is about people saying things. A corporation isn’t a person, and no corporation should ever get away with saying things that aren’t true, by claiming some imagined right to free speech. A lot of present-day problems can be traced to the government’s habit of granting rights to corporations that really belong only to humans.

Okay, so legislation can be passed to reduce or eliminate the amount of certain kinds of advertising, in certain time frames, on TV. However, just because something can be done it doesn’t mean it should be done. A lot of questions are bound to come up, once we start thinking about these matters.

For instance, Dr. Stamatakis says that the government is under a “moral imperative” to seriously consider banning all advertising that targets children. The concept of a moral imperative, when applied to government, can be disturbing. Every dictatorship, monarchy, despotism, oligarchy, and repressive theocracy in the history of humankind has claimed moral imperative. Do we really want to encourage this?

Australia has taken a leading role in what some characterize as strong advocacy for kids, and what others regard as yet another intrusion of the Nanny State. Vanessa Marsh recently reported on efforts to curb childhood obesity in Oz. While interviewing Michelle Trute, who is CEO of Diabetes Australia, Marsh has learned that the average child watches 60 junk food commercials in a week’s worth of TV viewing. Trute (and many other Australians) would like to see the junk food industry’s promotional efforts controlled with the same strictness as it’s applied to the nicotine industry.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Junk food adverts blamed for Scottish children’s obesity,” Herald Scotland, 06/14/10
Source: “Junk food packets should be plain,”, 05/01/10
Image by paulgreber, used under its Creative Commons license.

4 Responses

  1. In the 60’s, America’s childhood obesity was Russia’s fault. My mother would say, “Finish your dinner. Children are starving in Russia.”

    I didn’t know why my mother was worried about Communist children in a faraway land, but I certainly didn’t want them to go hungry on my account. So I finished everything on my plate. Except calves liver. If those commie kids died of malnutrition because I didn’t eat liver, so be it. Those moppets in Minsk were ungrateful for my sacrifice anyway; even though I suffered a chubby childhood for them, they were still threatening to nuke us. (more at

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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