Outdoor Fast Food Ads Linked To Obesity
February 1, 2013

Fast Food Ads Linked To Obesity In Some Neighborhoods

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Feeling a little tight around the waistline lately? New research indicates that a little bit of the blame for that growing winter weight could fall in the hands of marketers.

UCLA researchers have found a possible link between outdoor food ads, and the growing obesity trend.

Dr. Lenard Lesser and his colleagues wrote in the journal BMC Public Health about how the more outdoor advertisements promoting fast food and soft drinks there are in a census tract, the higher the likelihood that the area's residents are overweight.

"Obesity is a significant health problem, so we need to know the factors that contribute to the overeating of processed food," said Lesser, who conducted the research while a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar at the UCLA Department of Family Medicine and UCLA's Fielding School of Public Health.

He mentioned that previous research found that fast food ads are prevalent in low-income, minority areas, and studies have shown that marketing gets people to eat more.

"This is one of the first studies to suggest an association between outdoor advertising and obesity," said Lesser.

Researchers looked at two densely populated areas in Los Angeles and New Orleans for the study, focusing on more than 200 randomly selected census tracts from those two areas.

They used data on outdoor food advertising in those areas from a previous study, and linked that information with telephone-survey data from the same study, which included nearly 2,600 people between the age 18 and 98.

Lesser and his colleagues found that the higher the percentage of outdoor ads for food, then the higher the odds of obesity in those areas.

"For instance, in a typical census tract with about 5,000 people, if 30 percent of the outdoor ads were devoted to food, we would expect to find an additional 100 to 150 people who are obese, compared with a census tract without any food ads," Lesser said.

The team hopes to do more research to determine whether the findings could be replicated in other neighborhoods in the U.S.

Lesser told redOrbit in an email that in order for companies to help stop this correlation, they would essentially have to stop listening to their stockholders.

"Companies are beholden to their stockholders to purchase advertising space that will increase revenue for their company," he told redOrbit. "This means selling more food that has a good profit margin. Unfortunately, these foods are not usually the healthy foods. Communities have to decide whether they want these billboards where they work, live, and play."

He said he suggests communities take a look at the amount, and location of food advertising at both where they live, and where they work.

"Citizens can decide how much outdoor advertising they want and work to free their communities from advertising clutter," Lesser told redOrbit. "Individuals can be active on town boards which give permits for billboards."