Advertising and Childhood Obesity: The Role of the Federal Government in Limiting Children's Exposure to Unhealthy Food Advertisements

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Table of Contents    I. Introduction  II. the Role of the Federal Government in Curbing      Childhood Obesity III. The Inadequacy of Self-Regulation  IV. International Perspectives      A. Overview of Efforts to Limit Unhealthy Food Advertisements         in Europe      B. A Closer Look: The United Kingdom and Quebec         1. United Kingdom         2. Quebec   V. The Children's Television Act  VI. Proposed Solution VII. The First Amendment and Regulations Limiting      Commercial Speech as They Relate to Restrictions on      Advertising      A. The Applicable Standard      B. Regulation of Unhealthy Advertisements Directed at Children         as a Valid Restriction on Commercial Speech         1. Constitutionally Protected Speech and Substantial            Government Interest         2. Regulation Directly Advances the Government Interest         3. Narrowly Tailored Standard VIII. Conclusion 


Children are inundated with advertising for foods of poor nutritional quality, watching approximately 4,000 food-related advertisements per year in the United States, ninety-eight percent of which feature products that are high in fat, sugar, or sodium. (1) Exposure to such advertisements has been shown to influence the food preferences, purchase requests, and dietary intake of children aged two to eleven. (2) One in seven children between the ages of two and eleven are currently obese. (3) Obese children are more likely to develop serious health conditions, such as high blood pressure, asthma, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. (4) With hospitalizations of children for obesity-related illnesses on the rise, the annual direct cost of childhood obesity is reaching nearly $14.3 billion. (5) Despite these statistics, television advertisements for unhealthy foods continue to be aired during children's programming.

The federal government has recognized that childhood obesity is a problem that must be addressed. Although the Joint Task Force on Media and Childhood Obesity and the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children were launched with good intentions, they have not helped to reverse the trend in childhood obesity. (6) Furthermore, industry self-regulation has been ineffective at adequately reducing the number of television advertisements featuring nutritionally poor foods. (7) Children continue to be exposed to a large volume of commercials that advertise products containing high amounts of saturated fat, sugar, and sodium. (8)

The federal government must reevaluate its efforts to decrease the prevalence of childhood obesity. Congress should provide explicit direction to the Federal Communications Commission ("FCC") to restrict the advertisement of unhealthy foods during children's programming, defined in the regulations issued by the FCC pursuant to the Children's Television Act of 1990 ("CTA") (9) as programs "originally produced and broadcast primarily for an audience of children 12 years old and younger." (10) Further, Congress should delegate to the Food and Drug Administration ("FDA") the task of determining and adopting nutritional standards identifying which foods are unhealthy for consumption by children in this age group.

Part II of this Note examines the various initiatives that have been launched by the federal government in an effort to combat childhood obesity. Although the government has attempted to play a role in reducing the prevalence of childhood obesity, it must become more involved in order to make any significant progress. Part III of this Note then discusses the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, an attempt at industry-self regulation that has failed to considerably reduce children's exposure to unhealthy food advertisements. Part IV of this Note surveys the measures taken by numerous European countries to reduce children's exposure to televised advertisements of unhealthy food and then provides a closer examination of the efforts made by the governments of the United Kingdom and Quebec, Canada, to achieve this goal. …