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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UNC: Regulating TV Ads Targeted to Children Could Reduce Their Exposure to Junk Food

Regulating television advertising targeted toward children could be an effective way to reduce their exposure to unhealthy food products, according to a new study co-authored by Dr. Lindsey Smith Taillie, assistant professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health.

The study, published in Public Health Nutrition, evaluates the effects of regulations implemented in Chile that aim to reduce childhood obesity by restricting child-targeted marketing of products high in sugars, calories, saturated fats and sodium. Dr. Taillie teamed up with Dr. Francesca R. Dillman Carpentier, W. Horace Carter Distinguished Professor at UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and worked with university researchers in Chile to survey more than 1,500 families living in Santiago about preschool and adolescent television viewing.

Using those surveys, the researchers assessed hours and channels of television use and merged that information with an analysis of food advertising to estimate preschoolers’ and adolescents’ exposure to unhealthy food marketing. They found that after Chile’s regulations were put in place in 2016, children’s exposure to unhealthy food advertising on popular broadcast and cable television decreased significantly but was not eliminated from their viewing.

Preschoolers’ exposure to child-targeted advertising of unhealthy foods decreased by 35 percent, while adolescents’ exposure fell by 52 percent. The researchers also found that decreases were more pronounced for children who watched more television. Once the regulations were implemented, the food ads that children were still most frequently exposed to were for products high in sugar.

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