Obesity and the Media
Children are increasingly becoming overweight and less physically active, to the point that childhood obesity is a global epidemic. Media use -- including time spent watching television, playing video games and using a computer -- has been identified as one of the contributing factors for a number of reasons, including the following:
There is considerable advertising and promotion of high-sugar, high-fat foods during children's programming
Media use is displacing physical activity as children spend more and more time watching television and playing video games and less time being physically active
Today's children are inundated with media competing for their attention. Even with all of these choices, television continues to dominate their free time. Although the relationships between television, eating habits, nutrition and physical activity are complex, the recent rise in childhood obesity has been linked in part to time spent watching television.
American youth devote more time to media than to any other waking activity, with the average child spending a third of each day exposed to media. In 1999 a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the average child between the ages of 8 and 18 spent 6 hours and 43 minutes each day with media -- this was more time than they spent in school, with parents or involved in any activity other than sleep. Television dominates the free time of children and reduces their involvement in other activities.
Television Teaching About Food
In addition to their parents, American children are exposed to numerous verbal and non-verbal messages about food from peers and the media, with television -- and advertising in particular -- being the largest single media source of these messages. Most prevalent is advertising for branded foods -- such as cereal, juice, cookies, chips and other snack foods, in addition to commercials for fast-food restaurants.
The majority of commercials during programs aimed at children are for unhealthy high-fat, high-sugar or high-salt foods with little nutritional value. These prominently advertised foods are consumed in greater quantities than healthier foods, like fruits and vegetables, which are rarely advertised. In addition, the ads focus on the value of the foods as coming from the satisfaction of emotional rather than health needs.
Reprinted with permission. Copyright © 2002 - 2009 The Regents of the University of California
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