American kids are becoming obese in record numbers. Besides easy access to junk food and not enough emphasis put on exercise in school and at home, a report issued by the Kaiser Family Foundation suggests another major culprit: media. The report states the case bluntly: there’s a good chance that the more time a kid spends watching TV, the more likely he or she is to be overweight.
Clearly, not all kids who watch a lot of TV are fat or will become fat. And some studies haven’t found a significant correlation. But many reports strongly suggest that TV and obesity go hand in hand. And not because TV watching takes the place of playing outside or other kinds of exercise. Rather, TV exposes kids to an onslaught of ads for junk food.
According to studies cited in the report, the typical kid sees around forty thousand TV commercials per year. The majority of ads targeted to kids, studies find, are for candy, sugar cereals, soda, and fast food. Plus, many ads use popular cartoon characters and sports stars to peddle their wares, from Spiderman cereal to Bart Simpson candy bars.
Junk food ads don’t force kids to eat more, of course, but many studies conclude that such ads have a huge impact on kids’ desires. The more kids see Shaquille O’Neal wolf down a Whopper, the more desirable it begins to seem.
So what can be done? Aside from encouraging parents to curb their kids’ television habits, the report urges media companies to reduce junk food ads targeted at children and build messages about healthy eating into TV programs.