Banning food advertising to children has been a long-standing goal of obesity epidemic fighters. Now, Canadian researchers are calling for aggressive federal regulations that limit junk food commercials.

International obesity researchers began developing a set of policy interventions for banning food advertising to children at a 2011 obesity conference in Montreal, and have now published the recommendations in the Journal of Public Health Policy.

"Restricting marketing is not going to be a cure for childhood obesity, but it's one step in a multi-pronged approach to creating an environment where the healthy choice is the easy choice," said Kim Raine, a University of Alberta public health expert who was lead author of the paper on regulating junk food commercials. .

"Right now, it's the flashy, highly marketed, 'fun,' high-sugar and high-fat foods that are the easy choice. Kids see them and want them, and parents' efforts to encourage their kids to eat a healthy diet are undermined."

Raine believes that governments have a responsibility to fight the rising obesity epidemic by banning food advertising to children.

Obesity kills about 400,000 people in the United States alone, and severely obese people have the highest risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and other conditions caused by excess weight. The Centers for Disease Control report that one in three Americans is obese, a startling public health figure that has major consequences.

Since obese children are more likely to become obese adults, that rate can only keep rising. Health experts predict that 42% of Americans will be obese by 2030, and the health care costs will be astronomical.

Raine judges that 80 percent of health care costs are associated with obesity-related chronic illnesses like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. "Without investing in strong prevention efforts, like the proposed ban, the health system is not sustainable," she said.

The consensus panel for banning food advertising to children wants to follow the lead of the ban on advertising tobacco to minors, which has helped cut smoking rates. They also point to Quebec, which has banned all marketing, including junk food commercials, to children under 13 years old since 1980.

The obesity experts call for a federal government body that would pass regulations banning food advertising to children, and create minimum standards for all kinds of food marketing. It would also monitor companies for regulatory compliance and impose penalties on a case by case basis.

The advocates would create an exception in the food advertising ban for approved public health campaigns promoting healthy eating habits.

Raine believes that banning food advertising to children is necessary to combat the junk food industry's massive marketing resources. Junk food commercials appear on TV and the Internet, as well as in schools and video games.

Research shows that obese children are more susceptible to junk food commercials, and public health advocates do not have comparable funds to compete with aggressive healthful eating campaigns.

"It really is about trying to set a more level playing field because the healthy choices aren't being promoted well. They're getting buried, they're getting lost in an ocean of flashy marketing."