Combatting obesity through advertising?


A boy runs as fast as he can. He looks behind him. Three girls chase after him. He keeps running. The girls keep chasing him. The boy stops, panting and out of breath. The girls easily catch up to him and start kissing him on the cheeks. The slogan appears on the screen: “Stay fit… because you never know.” This ad first aired in 2001 on Canadian TV.


In a more recent ad, a girl is shown fighting with the “media monkey”, who censors the media she receives through her computer, her TV, and even the ads on the street. The 2010 commercial ends with the words, “You don’t need a media monkey to make healthy choices. Think for yourself.”


Concerned Children’s Advertisers Organization developed the Long Live Kids campaign to persuade children to eat healthier and exercise more. This campaign is very much needed, considering that more than a quarter of Canadian children and teens are overweight or obese. Child obesity rates are climbing faster than the adult rates. This will undoubtedly put a greater strain on the healthcare system, because obese children tend to become obese adults.


A University of Toronto study by the Exercise Psychology Unit examined the impacts of the Long Live Kids campaign. Guy Faulkner, Matthew Kwan, and Margaret Macneill, alongside Michelle Brownrigg from Active Healthy Kids Canada, conducted a survey across Canada. The authors were interested in learning whether or not the campaign had an impact on children’s health behaviour.


They interviewed children and asked if they had seen any messages or ads for kids about physical activity or healthy living. Those that recalled seeing ads for the Long Live Kids campaign reported seeing the ads on TV. Overall, 3% of children remembered the campaign without prompts and 57% remembered the campaign with prompts. Children living in households with incomes greater than $60,000 were three to five times more likely to recall the campaign than children living in households with incomes below $20,000. This led Faulkner and his colleagues to suggest that future campaigns should be pre-screened by children of different socioeconomic backgrounds.


The authors then asked the children about their physical activity habits. Children who remembered the Long Live Kids campaign were significantly more active in their free time than children who couldn’t remember the campaign. The authors did a followup interview and found that the children’s physical activity had improved since their last interview. They suspect that it may be due to the campaign.

Faulkner and his colleagues were very encouraged by the results they found. While they admit that the link between the campaign and exercise were not ideal, they saw a correlation between watching the ads and increasing physical activity.


Faulkner and his colleagues are currently researching how children become aware of health information and how children understand this information.