Television Advertising and Children's Diet, Activity, and Obesity Prevalence


Poor diet, inactivity and obesity have been linked to increased risks for a number of chronic diseases including cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Obesity and related health risk factors present in children are likely to persist into adulthood. This research investigates the relationships between televised advertisements for food, beverages, restaurants, and public service healthy diet and physical activity (HDPA) health promotion messages, and diet, physical activity, body mass index (BMI) and obesity among children and youth.

The overwhelming majority (97.8%) of food product ads seen on television by American children are of poor nutritional content, being high in either sugar, fat or sodium.

Most research has assessed the effect of advertising based on evidence that TV watching time correlates with poor diet and/or obesity; or, small-scale natural experiments that have focused on food requests or limited specific food choices which may have low external validity. This project will build substantially on the previous literature addressing three aims:

  1. Examine the relationship between exposure to food, beverage and restaurant advertising (measured by total product exposure and nutritional content of ads using age and race-specific ratings) and children’s and youths’ dietary intake patterns (i.e., consumption of specific food products/groups and food away from home including fast food), diet quality (i.e., total caloric intake, % fat and % sugar in diet and overall healthy eating index), BMI and obesity.
  2. Examine the relationship between exposure to HDPA health promotion ads and diet, physical activity, BMI and obesity.
  3. Examine the interactions between food-related and HDPA health promotion ads and neighborhood contextual factors (i.e., food prices and restaurant, food store, and physical activity-related outlet availability) and diet, activity and BMI/obesity.

To accomplish these aims, this research is conducting secondary data analyses, using a unique combination of four types of data:

  1. Television age- and race-specific ratings data for all food, beverage, restaurant, and antiobesity advertisements, purchased from Nielsen Media Research for 106 designated media markets
  2. Detailed nutritional content information about the advertised food products
  3. Local area contextual data on food prices and outlet density measures
  4. Data on population dietary intake, physical activity and measured height and weight from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, two nationally representative population surveys, one of which is longitudinal.

This project represents the most comprehensive exploration to date of the relationship between food, beverage, restaurant and HDPA health promotion advertising and diet, activity and BMI.

Given the serious public health risk posed by poor diet, inactivity and obesity, this research can provide important information for policymakers and public health advocates about the potential effectiveness of regulating food television advertising to children and using TV media campaigns as policy tools for improving these health outcomes.

Affiliated Center/Program

Funding Agency

National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health (Grant No. R01CA138456)


Principal investigator
Lisa M. Powell, PhD


Carol Braunschweig, PhD, RD
Frank J. Chaloupka, PhD
Young-Ku Choi, PhD
Sherry L. Emery, MBA, PhD

Start date
End date
Total award
About this grant

The grant supporting this research was extended 10 months with no additional funding.

Related publications

Access the abstracts of articles by Dr. Powell and colleagues about this research on this edited PubMed list.

Powell LM, Nguyen BT, Dietz WH. Energy and nutrient intake from pizza in the United States. Pediatrics. 2015 Feb;135(2):322-30. [See abstract.]

Powell LM, Wada R, Kumanyika SK. Racial/ethnic and income disparities in child and adolescent exposure to food and beverage television ads across the U.S. media markets. Health Place. 2014 Jul 30;29:124-131. [See abstract.]

Powell LM, Schermbeck RM, Chaloupka FJ. Nutritional content of food and beverage products in television advertisements seen on children's programming. Child Obes. 2013;9(6):524-531. [See abstract.]

Powell LM, Harris JL, Fox T. Food marketing expenditures aimed at youth: putting the numbers in context. Am J Prev Med. 2013 Oct;45(4):453-61. [See abstract.]

Powell LM, Nguyen BT. Fast-food and full-service restaurant consumption among children and adolescents: effect on energy, beverage, and nutrient intake. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2013 Jan;167(1):14-20. [See abstract.]

Powell LM, Nguyen BT, Han E. Energy intake from restaurants: demographics and socioeconomics, 2003-2008. Am J Prev Med. 2012 Nov;43(5):498-504. [See abstract.]

Slater SJ, Nicholson L, Chriqui J, Turner L, Chaloupka F. The impact of state laws and district policies on physical education and recess practices in a nationally representative sample of US public elementary schools. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012;166(4):311-6. [See abstract.]

Powell LM, Schermbeck RM, Szczypka G, Chaloupka FJ, Braunschweig CL. Trends in the nutritional content of television food advertisements seen by children in the United States. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2011;165(12):1078-86. [See abstract.]

Powell LM, Szczypka G, Chaloupka FJ. Trends in exposure to television food advertisements among children and adolescents in the United States. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2010;164(9):794-802. [See abstract.]