One the most important indicators of the state of health of Americans today may be the ever increasing rate of overweight and obese children. The Institute of Medicine has found that one-third of American children are either obese or at risk for obesity. The Center of Disease Control has found that, since 1980, the proportion of overweight children ages 6-11 has doubled and the number of overweight adolescents has tripled.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the increase in childhood obesity represents and unprecedented burden on children’s health. “If we don’t deal with children, this could be the first generation that will live sicker and die younger than its parents,” states Dr. James S. Marks, senior vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which recently announced an unprecedented effort to reverse childhood obesity epidemic by 2015.
Obesity or being overweight is not only harmful to the self-esteem and mental health of youngsters in a society that places such high value on thinness, but there are serious physical health concerns as well. According to Dr. Melissa A. Kalt, Clinical Professor of Internal Medicine/Pediatrics, overweight kids are set up for premature health risks such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and even poor behavior in school like inattentiveness, disruptiveness, truancy, and low grade scores.
Some of the environmental factors that are thought to contribute to obesity are: over consumption of fast food, simple carbohydrates, soda, or other high calorie, high fat foods; larger and larger portion sizes; lack of exercise and/or more sedentary lifestyles; under consumption of whole foods, fruits and vegetables. However, what may be underlying all of these factors or at the very least exacerbating the issue is children and media.
According to the Task Force on Media and Childhood Obesity of the Federal Communications Commission, children today spend many hours each day watching television and are influenced by the programming and advertising they see.
The Kaiser Family Foundation states that young children cannot distinguish between programming content and advertising.
The U.S. Congress, Children’s Television Act of 1990 reports, by the time the average child is 18 years hold, he or she has spent between 10,000 and 15,000 hours watching television and has been exposed to more than 200,000 commercials.
Once research study documents that obesity in children increases the more hours they watch television. (Crespo, 2001)
Another research study shows that children who watch more than three ours of television a day are 50 percent more likely to be obese than kids who watch fewer than two hours. (Tremblay, 2003)
Another researcher reports that children who use a lot of media have a lower activity level which is linked to a higher rate of obesity (Vandewater, 2004)
According to the 2004 report “The Role of Media in Childhood Obesity” by the Kaiser Family Foundation, “during the same period in which childhood obesity has increased so dramatically, there has also been an explosion in media targeted to children: TV shows and videos, specialized cable networks, video games, computer activities and Internet Web sites.” And “much of the media targeted to children is laden with elaborate advertising campaigns, many of which promote foods such as candy, soda, and snacks.”
The Advertising Coalition reports that $10-$15 billion is spent annually on kids’ food advertising.
One study documented approximately 11 food commercials per hour during children’s Saturday morning television programming, estimating that the average child viewer may be exposed to one food commercial every 5 minutes (Kotz, 1994)
Another study found that children’s food choices were significantly impacted by which ads they saw, i.e. either an ad for fruit or an ad for candy (Gorn, 1982)
Other researchers found that for each additional hour of television viewed per day, daily servings of fruits and vegetables decreased among adolescents possibly due to television advertising (Boynton-Jarret, R, 2003)
While many researchers and studies are still establishing the role of media in child obesity and overweight issues, (the direct link between advertising and obesity has not been officially established), the advertisers certainly know that TV ads can influence children’s and family consumer choices. For example, fast food outlets alone spend $3 billion in television ads targeted to children. And according to “Advertising, Marketing and the Media: Improving Messages from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, food and beverage advertisers collectively spend $10 billion to $12 billion a year to reach children and youth.
So, what’s a parent to do to counteract unhealthy advertisements and the big dollars behind them? Here a few pointers on helping children be more healthy and fit:
First, educate them on the factors contributing to being overweight or obese:
1. Too much “fat foods” (fast foods, simple carbs, soda, energy drinks, cereal etc.)
2. Larger than life portion sizes
3. Not enough movement or exercise
4. Not enough whole foods (fruits, vegetables, whole wheat bread, whole grains etc.)
Second, reduce poor food choices in the home. Refuse to buy the sodas and sugar cereals or insist that these only be indulged in after a healthy meal.
Third, make whole food choices easy for them to prepare (i.e. pre washed, cut up fruits and veggies; oatmeal; smoothies; whole wheat bread; pre-cooked healthy snacks/meals like cubed chicken breast, string cheese, hard-boiled eggs, in single serving size containers. Make it tasty and easy (see green smoothie recipe below).
Fourth, encourage them to exercise (i.e. refuse to drive them to school; sign them up for sports; play with them outdoors; get a dog and go for daily walks). Make it fun.
Fifth, limit television hours per day. And teach them how they can mute the commercials or “tevo” the show and fast forward through the commercials.
And finally, teach them that being fit and healthy means eating healthy foods and exercising, in direct contrast to how television shows and advertisements portray super skinny people eating chips and drinking soda, it’s just not true. And educate them on the fact that advertisers make their money by portraying beautiful people eating junk food.
EASY, YUMMY recipe for “green smoothies”:
Give Your Kids a Great Dose of Fresh, Raw Servings of Fruits and Vegetables
(shhhhh, tastes so good, your kids won’t even know there is spinach in there!)
1. Put about 2 cups water in the blender
2. Add a few handfuls of spinach or kale or chard, blend until smooth
3. Add fruit, 1-2 bananas and 1-2 C frozen blueberries or mixed berries or fruit etc.
4. If you must, add a small amount of sweetener of choice.
5. Smoothie will be purple and yummy and you’d never know there were healthy greens hiding in the mix, ENJOY!
(Go for a green smoothie over a soda! Children who drink just one soft drink a day are 60 percent more likely to become obese, according to a 2001 study by Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital.)
Boynton-Jarret, R, et al, (2003) Impact of Television Viewing Patterna on Fruit and Vegetable Consumption among Adolescents, Pediatrics 112(2003)6:1321-1326
Crespo, Carlos J. et al, (2001), Television Watching, Energy Intake, and Obesity in U.S. Children, Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 155, 360-365
Eating Habits of Infants and Children Affect Health and Performance. HealthLink Medical College of Wisconsin. http://www.healthlink.mcw.edu/article/1031002925.html
Federal Communications Commission: Task Force on Media and Childhood Obesity. http://www.fcc.gov/obesity/
Gorn, G, et al, Behavioral Evidence of the Effects of televised Food Messages on Children, Journal of Consumer Research 9 (1982): 200-205
Kotz, K. et al, (1994), Food Advertisements during Children’s Saturday Morning Television Programming: Are They Consistent with Dietary Recommendations?” Journal of the American Dietic Association 94(1994)11:1296-1300
National Institute on Media and the Family: Media Use And Obesity Among Children. http://www.mediafamily.org/facts/facts_tvandobchild.shtml
Tremblay, M.S. et al, (2003), Is the Canadian child obesity epidemic related to physical inactivity? International Journal of Obesity, 27, 1100-1105
The Role of Media in Childhood Obesity: This Kaiser Family Foundation issue brief that reviews more than 40 studies on the role of media in the nation’s dramatically increasing rates of childhood obesity explores what researchers do and do not know about the role media plays in childhood obesity. It also outlines media-related policy options that have been proposed to help address childhood
U.S.News article “Childhood Obesity Epidemic a Long-Term Challenge” http://health.usnews.com/usnews/health/healthday/070920/childhood-obesity-epidemic-a-long-term-challenge.htm