Public Health Obesity-Related TV Advertising: Lessons Learned from Tobacco

Background: Over the past 25 years, the percent of overweight and obese adults and children in the United States has increased dramatically. The magnitude and scope of the public health threat from obesity have resulted in calls for a national comprehensive obesity prevention strategy, akin to tobacco use prevention strategies undertaken over the past two decades. The purpose of this paper is to describe and compare population exposure to paid media campaigns for tobacco and obesity prevention, draw lessons from tobacco advertising, and compare tobacco and obesity behaviors/influences to identify priorities and pitfalls for further research on obesity adverting.

Methods: This is a descriptive study. Ratings data for the years 1999–2003, for the top 75 designated market areas in the U.S. were used to quantify exposure levels to anti-obesity and anti-smoking advertising in the U.S.

Results: Anti-tobacco campaigns preceded anti-obesity campaigns by several years, and in each year exposure levels—both total and average—for anti-tobacco media campaigns far outweighed those of anti-obesity campaigns.

Conclusions: It is important to compare both similarities and differences between smoking- and obesity-related behaviors, which might affect the potential impact of anti-obesity media campaigns. Given the scope of the public health risks attributable to obesity, and the amount of federal, state, and other resources devoted to anti-obesity media campaigns, there is a clear need to evaluate the potential impact of such campaigns efforts. Nonetheless, the challenges are significant in both motivating and monitoring such complex behavior change, and in attributing changes to a given media campaign.


October 2007

Sherry L. Emery
Glen Szczypka
Lisa M. Powell
Frank J. Chaloupka