The Heritage Foundation released an excellent report this week on the Interagency Working Group’s proposed regulations on food advertising (which I’ve written about here and here and here). 

The report covers the typical issues surrounding the issue–the absurdity of the grocery list of foods that the government considers unhealthy for kids (yogurt, bottled water, pretzels), the first amendment issues, and the economic impact.  But the report also covers an area not addressed very often.  

The report examines what impact advirtising actually has on childhood obesity rates.

The [IWG] standards are based on the notion that food advertising causes obesity in children. But a variety of research has failed to establish any such link. For example, the Institute of Medicine reported in 2006 that there was insufficient evidence to associate advertising with the diets of adolescents.

In fact, children’s exposure to food advertising has lessened significantly in recent years. The average number of food and beverage advertisements viewed by kids (ages 2 to 11) during children’s programming fell by 50 percent between 2004 and 2010, according to the Georgetown Economic Service.  During the six-year period, ads for snack bars fell by nearly 100 percent, cookies by 99 percent, soft drinks by 96 percent, and frozen and refrigerated pizza by 95 percent.

The scholarly literature offers solid evidence that physical inactivity-not food intake-is the primary cause of childhood obesity. As noted by Dr. Mark McClellan, a former commissioner of the FDA, actual levels of caloric intake among the young have not appreciably changed over the last 20 years. “The lack of evidence of a general increase in energy [food] intake among youths despite an increase in the prevalence of overweight suggests that physical inactivity is a major public health challenge in this age group.”

Nor have advertising crackdowns elsewhere proven effective. Quebec banned food advertising to children in 1980, but childhood obesity rates there are no different from those in other Canadian provinces.  Sweden’s advertising ban has existed for more than 10 years with no discernable effect on obesity rates.

How much you want to bet members of the IWG are just going to ignore the research that’s been done on advirtising to children?  You know, the research that basically proves these regulations will do nothing to improve the health of children.