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30% of kids aged 6-11 are overweight, and 15% are obese. For teens, the numbers are slightly higher. Obesity is a complicated condition with many contributing factors. One of those factors is probably sitting in your living room.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, most children under age 6 watch an average of 2 hours of television per day, and kids and teens 8 to 18 years of age spend nearly 4 hours a day in front of a TV screen (plus almost 2 additional hours on the computer). Television has become our entertainment, our babysitter, our relaxation tool, and our source of information.  

Research has shown that the risk of being overweight or obese, and developing type 2 diabetes and other conditions, increase with the more hours of television that kids watch. The risks of overweight and obesity may be greatest when kids watch over 2 hours of television per day, but most experts agree that any amount of television is detrimental. 

Is TV really the culprit?

Is it purely the lack of physical activity that causes the link between time spent watching Tv and being overweight, or is there something more? Some researchers claim it’s not the amount of time spent watching television, but rather what is being watched that matters. 

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), kids in the U.S. see about 40, 000 commercials each year (I imagine this number to be on par with Canada), and a large portion of those commercials are for food products that promote an unhealthy diet. Most of the commercials for food are products that are typically low in nutritional value, and high in fat, sugar and Calories. 

Kids can't tell the difference

Sugary cereals, candy, snacks, fast food and sugary beverages are made to look appealing to kids and often feature your child’s favourite Tv characters. Companies spend millions on advertising campaigns to get your children to want their products, and it works! Research has shown that kids under 6 years of age are unable to distinguish program content from commercials, especially if the product features a recognizable Tv character. Anyone with who’s been to a grocery store with a young child can tell you what types of foods they ask for, and it’s usually something that comes in a box that they’ve seen on Tv. 

Does this really matter? I think it does. The Institute of Medicine reports that television advertising has a strong influence on what children under the age of 12 eat, and unfortunately, there aren’t a lot (if any) commercials for fruits and vegetables. Kids will want the unhealthy yet attractive foods they see on Tv, which starts kids off on the wrong nutritional food and puts them at risk for long-term health issues. For this reason, many groups are advocating to ban advertisements aimed at children altogether.

Even if you take the television out of your home completely, you can’t get away from marketing entirely. So what can you do? 
  • Limit Tv time. The AAP recommends that kids under the age of 2 do not watch any Tv at all, and those older than 2 watch no more than 1 - 2 hours per day of quality programming.
  • Teach your kids to be critical of what they see. Talk about what they’re watching and ask questions like "Do you think that's a healthy choice?"
  • Explain the purpose of marketing. Explain to your kids that commercials are meant to make people want things they don't necessarily need 
  • Use the Tivo. Record programs without the commercials, or use your PVR to fast forward them. 
  • Goto the video store. Buy or rent children's videos or DVDs.
Will banning food ads on Tv stop the obesity epidemic? Not likely. It is, however, a step in the right direction, and any long journey starts with one step.

Janine Bolton

 


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