Institute of Medicine on Advertising and Children's Obesity:

A few weeks ago, the Institute of Medicine released a new report which has been reported to conclude that the rise in children's obesity in the United States can be attributed at least in part to advertising of junk food and fast food. According to the Washington Post:

Food and beverage companies are using television ads to entice children into eating massive amounts of unhealthful food, leading to a sharp increase in childhood obesity and diabetes, a national science advisory panel said yesterday.

The Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academies, called on food and beverage manufacturers and restaurants to make more healthful products and shift their advertising emphasis to promote them. If the companies do not do so within two years, Congress should mandate changes, especially for broadcast and cable television ads, the institute said.

"There is strong evidence that exposure to television advertising is associated with" obesity, the government-chartered institute said in a congressionally requested report to determine the effects of food advertising on children's health. The report said most of the food and beverage products promoted to children are high in calories, sugar, salt and fat and low in nutrients.

I haven't read the full report yet, so I won't comment on it extensively here. Richard Posner and Gary Becker have an exchange on their blog, which is reproduced here. I assume that they are commenting on the general issue, not the voluminous IOM Report, which they do not seem to address directly.

As readers will be aware, I published a co-authored article on the topic last year that concluded that based on the data available at that time, the evidence fails to support the conclusion that advertising is contributing to the rise in children's obesity. The article is available here. The article also contains an exhaustive summary of the literature available on the possible causes of rising rates of childhood obesity.

Updated research from the FTC that reinforces the conclusions of our initial study was presented this summer by Pauline Ippolito fo the FTC and is available here.

Becker refers to a PhD dissertation by a newly-minted Chicago grad, which is available here. He concludes that the evidence fails to support the conclusion that the increase in children's obesity can be blamed on changes in diet (i.e., greater consumption of junk food or fast food), but rather a decrease in physical activity resulting from increased computer and video game use.

I hope to have time to read the IOM study over my break, but if not, I thought it would be useful for those following the issue to be aware of the developments related to the IOM report.