It's no secret that kids these days are bombarded with smiling images of the clown suit-ed Ronald McDonald, bespectacled Colonel Sanders and other fast food icons, but could these advertising ploys directly contribute to childhood obesity?

Perhaps: A new study by the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that young people who recognize fast-food brands when certain cues are erased -- like McDonald's golden arches and KFC's logo -- are twice as likely to be obese as those who recognized only a few.

Participants in a national sample of 3,342 youths aged 15 to 23 were shown 20 still images culled from television ads for top fast food restaurants. Brands were digitally removed from the images, and individuals were asked if they remembered seeing the ad, if they liked it and if they could name the restaurant brand. They were also shown 20 ads for alcohol.

According to a release from the study, the results were alarming:

Results showed that about 18 percent of participants surveyed were overweight, and 15 percent were obese. The percentage of youths who were obese was significantly higher among those who recognized more ads than those who recognized few ads (17 percent vs. 8.3 percent). Even after controlling for the variables listed above, youths who recognized many ads were more than twice as likely to be obese compared with those who recognized few ads.

Interestingly, the same phenomenon was not found with alcohol ads, suggesting it's specific to fast food advertising content.

The study's co-author, James D. Sargent, MD, FAAP, noted that the relationship between fast food marketing and obesity "not simply that it prompts more quick-serve restaurant visits."

Instead, “individuals who are more familiar with these ads may have food consumption patterns that include many types of high-calorie food brands, or they may be especially sensitive to visual cues to eat while watching TV. More research is necessary to determine how fast-food ad familiarity is linked to obesity,” he added.

The researchers were quick to note, however, that more research is necessary to fully understand the relationship between fast food and obesity.

Photo from Flickr: Keoni Cabral

Also on HuffPost:

The Worst Fast Food Creations Of 2011:

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  • Domino's Stuffed Cheesy Bread

    Plain old stuffed crust? That's so last decade -- at least according to <a href="http://www.thedailymeal.com/dominos-ipad-app-makes-you-pizza-hero?utm_source=huffington%2Bpost&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=years%2Bmost%2Bover%2Btop%2Bfast%2Bfood%2Bdishes" target="_hplink"><strong>Domino's Pizza</strong></a>. Earlier this year, the chain rolled out a line of "Stuffed Cheesy Bread" that's full of "cheese, cheese, and more cheese." In fact, the breads -- which come in Spinach and Feta, Bacon and Jalapeño, and plain Cheese -- contain as much cheese as an entire medium pizza. <em>Related:</em> <a href="http://www.thedailymeal.com/most-bizarre-pizza-toppings-slideshow-0?utm_source=huffington%2Bpost&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=years%2Bmost%2Bover%2Btop%2Bfast%2Bfood%2Bdishes" target="_hplink"><strong>Most Bizarre Pizza Toppings</strong></a> <em>Photo Credit:</em> © Jeff Padrick/Klug Studio

  • KFC Cheesy Bacon Bowl

    A bowl can hardly contain "layers of your favorites" without including bacon. Or so was the logic at KFC, which added bacon as a limited-time topping to <a href="http://www.thedailymeal.com/kfc-debuts-cheesy-bacon-bowls?utm_source=huffington%2Bpost&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=years%2Bmost%2Bover%2Btop%2Bfast%2Bfood%2Bdishes" target="_hplink"><strong>the chain's line of "Famous Bowls."</strong></a> How did they do it? Well, they took a 680-calorie combo of mashed potatoes, corn, Popcorn Chicken, gravy, and cheese -- then added bacon. <em>Related:</em> <a href="http://www.thedailymeal.com/fast-food-you-cant-find-america-slideshow-0?utm_source=huffington%2Bpost&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=years%2Bmost%2Bover%2Btop%2Bfast%2Bfood%2Bdishes" target="_hplink"><strong>Fast Food You Can't Find in America</strong></a> <em>Photo Credit:</em> © brandeating

  • Starbucks' Trenta Drinks

    Fast-food excess is hardly reserved for food alone. Take Starbucks' Trenta-sized cups, the veritable Big Gulps of coffee consumption, which each contain 31 ounces of caffeinated brew to pour down your gullet. And if caffeine-induced twitching <a href="http://www.thedailymeal.com/how-healthy-are-your-kids-healthy-snacks-slideshow?utm_source=huffington%2Bpost&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=years%2Bmost%2Bover%2Btop%2Bfast%2Bfood%2Bdishes" target="_hplink"><strong>isn't enough of a health risk</strong></a>, consumers should be advised to pace themselves: The cups are actually larger than the typical human stomach. <em>Related:</em> <a href="http://www.thedailymeal.com/how-eat-well-while-training-marathon-slideshow?utm_source=huffington%2Bpost&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=years%2Bmost%2Bover%2Btop%2Bfast%2Bfood%2Bdishes" target="_hplink"><strong>How to Eat Well While Marathon Training</strong></a> <em>Photo Credit:</em> © <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/scelera/" target="_hplink"><strong>Flickr/samantha celera</strong></a>

  • Denny's Maple Bacon Sundae

    What's more horrifying than an ice cream sundae that features vanilla soft serve, maple syrup, and bacon bits? An entire menu of creations based on the same bacon-centric principle. Denny's, however, has gone there: <a href="http://www.thedailymeal.com/20-food-topics-just-wont-die-slideshow#7?utm_source=huffington%2Bpost&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=years%2Bmost%2Bover%2Btop%2Bfast%2Bfood%2Bdishes" target="_hplink"><strong>The chain's "Baconalia!" menu</strong></a> included that cringeworthy sundae, along with a triple-decker BLT, Bacon Meatloaf, and Bacon Flapjacks. <em>Related:</em> <a href="http://www.thedailymeal.com/20-food-topics-just-wont-die-slideshow?utm_source=huffington%2Bpost&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=years%2Bmost%2Bover%2Btop%2Bfast%2Bfood%2Bdishes" target="_hplink"><strong>20 Food Topics That Just Won't Die</strong></a> <em>Photo Credit:</em> © <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/aloha75/" target="_hplink"><strong>Flickr/Sam Howzit</strong></a>

  • Burger King Stuffed Steakhouse Burger

    If fast food has taught us one thing, it is this: Any food item can be stuffed inside any other. <a href="http://www.thedailymeal.com/burger-king-rolls-out-premium-hamburger?utm_source=huffington%2Bpost&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=years%2Bmost%2Bover%2Btop%2Bfast%2Bfood%2Bdishes" target="_hplink"><strong>Burger King's Stuffed Steakhouse Burger</strong></a>, introduced earlier this year, is a prime example. Not content to simply put cheese atop a burger patty, the chain stuffed bits of Cheddar and jalapeño inside the beef, for "an experience you can see and taste in every bite." <em>Related:</em> <a href="http://www.thedailymeal.com/burger-king-debut-new-fries?utm_source=huffington%2Bpost&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=years%2Bmost%2Bover%2Btop%2Bfast%2Bfood%2Bdishes" target="_hplink"><strong>Burger King to Debut New Fries</strong></a> <em>Photo Credit:</em> © <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/theimpulsivebuy/" target="_hplink"><strong>Flickr/theimpulsivebuy</strong></a>

  • Pizza Hut's Big Dinner Box

    Pizza Hut's "epic-size" repast offers up two medium pizzas, <a href="http://www.thedailymeal.com/americas-best-buffalo-wings-slideshow?utm_source=huffington%2Bpost&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=years%2Bmost%2Bover%2Btop%2Bfast%2Bfood%2Bdishes" target="_hplink"><strong>eight wings</strong></a>, and five breadsticks -- in one convenient box! For the low prize of $20, ravenous diners might be tempted to scarf down the entire thing themselves, but please, make this one a family affair: The items in a single box are estimated to contain around 5,000 calories. <em>Related:</em> <a href="http://www.thedailymeal.com/10-fast-food-favorites-made-healthy-slideshow-0?utm_source=huffington%2Bpost&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=years%2Bmost%2Bover%2Btop%2Bfast%2Bfood%2Bdishes" target="_hplink"><strong>10 Fast Food Favorites Made "Healthy"</strong></a> <em>Photo Credit:</em> © <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/aloha75/" target="_hplink"><strong>Flickr/Sam Howzit</strong></a>

  • Dunkin' Donuts Sausage Pancake Bites

    If you're craving a pancake and sausage breakfast, but just can't find the time, <a href="http://www.thedailymeal.com/dunkin-debuts-new-holiday-items-45?utm_source=huffington%2Bpost&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=years%2Bmost%2Bover%2Btop%2Bfast%2Bfood%2Bdishes" target="_hplink"><strong>Dunkin' Donuts</strong></a> discovered a solution in 2011. An order of the chain's Sausage Pancake Bites offered diners three nuggets of flapjack dough that each enclosed a sausage link. A trio of nuggets also managed to enclose 20 grams of fat, more than most doughnuts. <em>Related:</em> <a href="http://www.thedailymeal.com/mcdonalds-magic-window-menu-slideshow?utm_source=huffington%2Bpost&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=years%2Bmost%2Bover%2Btop%2Bfast%2Bfood%2Bdishes" target="_hplink"><strong>McDonald's Menu Mash-Up</strong></a> <em>Photo Credit:</em> © <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/theimpulsivebuy/" target="_hplink"><strong>Flickr/theimpulsivebuy</strong></a>

  • Taco Bell Doritos Locos Tacos

    Think outside the bun -- and the conventional taco shell. In an apparent bid to include as much junk as possible in a single meal, <a href="http://www.thedailymeal.com/taco-bell-looks-reinvent-taco?utm_source=huffington%2Bpost&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=years%2Bmost%2Bover%2Btop%2Bfast%2Bfood%2Bdishes" target="_hplink"><strong>Taco Bell</strong></a> used California and Ohio residents as guinea pigs to test shells made entirely of Doritos' nacho-flavored chips. The cheesy delicacy might be introduced nationwide next year, when, presumably, the chain will also swaps burrito wraps for potato chips. <em>Related:</em> <a href="http://www.thedailymeal.com/chicos-tacos-love-story?utm_source=huffington%2Bpost&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=years%2Bmost%2Bover%2Btop%2Bfast%2Bfood%2Bdishes" target="_hplink"><strong>Chico's Tacos: A Love Story</strong></a> <em>Photo Credit:</em> © thatsnerdalicious

  • Friendly's Ultimate Grilled-Cheese BurgerMelt

    Why eat one sandwich, when you can eat three? The KFC Double Down may have replaced a burger bun with fried chicken, but this year, Friendly's managed to outdo even that monstrosity. They swapped out a cheeseburger's bread with two entire grilled cheese sandwiches. This gastronomical innovation, not surprisingly, is also a caloric nightmare: 1,500 per sandwich(es). Even that <a href="http://www.thedailymeal.com/no-happy-ending-friendlys?utm_source=huffington%2Bpost&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=years%2Bmost%2Bover%2Btop%2Bfast%2Bfood%2Bdishes" target="_hplink"><strong>doesn't seem to be helping the company</strong></a> -- the 76-year-old family-dining brand filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Oct. 5, and is scheduled to be auctioned Dec. 22. <em>Related:</em> <a href="http://www.thedailymeal.com/no-happy-ending-friendlys?utm_source=huffington%2Bpost&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=years%2Bmost%2Bover%2Btop%2Bfast%2Bfood%2Bdishes" target="_hplink"><strong>No Happy Ending for Friendly's</strong></a> <em>Photo Credit:</em> © <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/zombieite/" target="_hplink"><strong>Flickr/zombieite</strong></a>

  • Denny's Mac 'N Cheese Big Daddy Patty Melt

    Leave it to Denny's to create a sandwich that has <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/01/dennys-mac-n-cheese-patty-melt_n_945390.html" target="_hplink"><strong>both mac 'n cheese and hamburger meat</strong></a> as ingredients...and sauce and more cheese. This gutbomb was part of Denny's "Let's Get Cheesy" menu, and cheesy it is indeed. We fear what the chain will come up with next, given that this calorie-laden meal has twice the calories as a stick of butter. <em>Related</em>: <a href="http://www.thedailymeal.com/americas-best-buffalo-wings-slideshow?utm_source=huffington%2Bpost&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=years%2Bmost%2Bover%2Btop%2Bfast%2Bfood%2Bdishes" target="_hplink"><strong>America's Best Buffalo Wings</strong></a> <em>Photo Credit</em>: Denny's