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Media and Childhood Obesity

Children today spend as much as four and a half hours each day watching television and are influenced by the programming and advertising they see. In 2010, one out of every three American children is obese or overweight. As childhood obesity rises, there is an opportunity for the FCC to examine the impact of the media and children's television programming on this growing health concern.

Did you know?
  • One in every three children (31.7%) ages 2-19 is overweight or obese. 1
  • Obesity is estimated to cause 112,000 deaths per year in the United States 2
  • One third of all children born in the year 2000 are expected to develop diabetes during their lifetime 3
  • The effects of childhood obesity create an estimated $3 billion per year in direct medical costs 4

How the FCC Can Help:

As the amount of media children consume continues to increase, so does children's exposure to advertizing and food marketing. Studies show that unlike adults, children can have a hard time distinguishing between programming content and advertizing. 5

While the direct relationship between food marketing and childhood obesity has yet to be established, the federal government can take several steps to help improve the media environment for our children and promote healthier lifestyles.

In 2010, the FCC joined the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity and released a report to the President, entitled "Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity Within a Generation." The Commission worked closely with the FTC, the FDA and HHS in the food marketing section of the report.

Here are some of the report recommendations on how changes in food marketing can decrease childhood obesity:

  • All media and entertainment companies should limit the licensing of their popular characters to food and beverages that are healthy and consistent with nutrition standards.
  • The food and enteratainment industries should jointly adopt meaningful, uniform nutrition standards for marketing food and beverages to children, as well as a uniform standard for what constitutes marketing to children.
  • Industry should provide technology to help consumers distinguish between advertisements for healthy and unhealthy foods and to limit their children's exposure to unhealthy food advertisements.
  • If voluntary efforts to limit the marketing of unhealthy foods to children do not help, the FCC should consider revisiting and modernizing rules on commercial time permitted during children's programming.

Additional Resources:

  • Let's Move! is a program developed by First Lady Michelle Obama to solve the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation.
  • Partnership for a Healthier America is working to target industry specific solutions to fight obesity, and is a partner to the First Lady's Let's Move! campaign.
  • The Center for Disease Control provides information about childhood obesity, including how "overweight" and "obese" are defined for children.
  • Sesame workshop offers parents the Healthy Habits for Life initiative. The project seeks to establish an early foundation of healthy habits, while reminding children and their adult caregivers that living a healthy lifestyle doesn't have to be a chore – it can be fun!


  • 1 Ogden, C L , Carroll, M , Curtin, L , Lamb, M , Flegal, K (2010) Prevalence of High Body Mass Index in US Children and Adolescents 2007-2008 Journal of American Medical Association, 303(3), 242-249
  • 2 Flegal, K M , Graubard, B I , Williamson D F , et al (2005) Excess deaths associated with underweight, overweight, and obesity Journal of the American Medical Association, 293(15), 1861-7
  • 3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics (2007) National Diabetes Surveillance System Incidence of Diabetes: Crude and Age-Adjusted Incidence of Diagnosed Diabetes per 1000 Population Aged 18-79 Years, United States, 1997–2004 Retrieved April 17, 2007 from: http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/statistics/incidence/fig2.htm
  • 4 Trasande, L , Chatterjee, S (2009) Corrigendum: The Impact of Obesity on Health Service Utilization and Costs in Childhood Obesity, 17(9)
  • 5 Kaiser Family Foundation, The Role of Media in Childhood Obesity, Feb. 2004