Apparently it’s Childhood Obesity Week this week, so it only follows that there’ll be a trickle of headlines about obesity, parenting, television and junk food in the media this week. In time for all that, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a Policy Statement last week titled “Children, Adolescents, Obesity and the Media”.
The statement says pretty much everything you imagine it would say:
Junk food and fast food ads increase a child's desire to eat those types of foods, studies show that watching TV increases snacking and children who stay up late at night watching TV or playing video games are raising their risk of obesity due to their lack of sleep.
While I’m inclined to mock the need for a study that in my view equates to common sense, they did come up with some very interesting findings:
- Children and teens who watch more TV tend to consume more calories or eat higher-fat diets, drink more sodas, and eat fewer fruits and vegetables.
- Some researchers feel that eating while watching TV suppresses cues of satiety, which leads to overeating. (We already know that TV watching by children under 2 isn’t good for brain development, so it make sense that it will cause different reactions elsewhere).
- Others believe that viewers are ‘primed’ to choose unhealthy foods as a consequence of watching advertising for foods high in fat, salt, sugar and low in nutritional content.
- More than 80% of all advertisements (in America. We don’t watch children’s channels with advertising, so I don’t know what it’s like in the UK, but I suspect it’s not as bad!) in children’s programming are for fast foods or snacks and for every hour that children watch TV they see an estimated 11 food advertisements.
According to the AAP parents can help curb their child’s weight by discussing food advertising and monitoring TV viewing, limiting a child’s time in front of a TV and avoiding TV and internet in a child’s room.
Taking away a child’s viewing privileges is really seen more as a punishment than a good thing, however, so you could, of course, cook a nutritious dinner, eat it at a table, do fun and active family activities and make it seems like something a family does rather than a chore. All the studies in the world won’t help though, unless we act like responsible adults and parents and use common sense, but I’m no scientist or researcher, so don’t quote me on that.
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