Banning fast food ads on TV can cut the number of overweight children by as much as 18 percent, researchers from National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) suggest.
During the study, the researchers measured the number of hours of fast food television advertising messages viewed by children on a weekly basis.
They found that a ban on fast food television advertisements during children's programming in America would reduce the number of overweight children ages 3-11 by 18 percent, while also lowering the number of overweight adolescents ages 12-18 by 14 percent.
And the effect was more pronounced for males than females.
"We have known for some time that childhood obesity has gripped our culture, but little empirical research has been done that identifies television advertising as a possible cause," said NBER economist Shin-Yi Chou of Lehigh University.
"Hopefully, this line of research can lead to a serious discussion about the type of policies that can curb America's obesity epidemic," Chou added.
The study also found that the elimination of tax deductibility tied to advertising would similarly produce declines in childhood obesity, albeit at a smaller rate of 5-7 percent.
Advertising is considered a business expense and can be used to reduce a company's taxable income.
The authors deduce that, since the corporate income tax rate is 35 percent, the elimination of the tax deductibility of food advertising costs would be equivalent to increasing the price of advertising by 54 percent.
This would result in the reduction of fast food advertising messages by 40 percent for children, and 33 percent for adolescents.
The new study is published in the Journal of Law and Economics.