Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Obesity Question

The question is: Is television responsible for childhood obesity? It would be silly to argue that the answer is undoubtedly "yes." Of course television can't be solely responsible for the obesity epidemic. There must be various factors that play into a child's diet. I spent a great deal of time researching the problem last semester. I found a social policy report that was particularly helpful throughout my investigation on the Society for Research in Child Development's website. The report is titled "The Epidemic of Childhood Obesity" and can be found at here. It cites environmental factors as a heavy influence including styles of family eating an activity, quality of school lunch and physical education, the design of the physical community environment, and the influences of media on foods and behaviors. AHA! With further research I learned that television not only consumed hours that could be spent on physical activity and play, it also bombarded the viewer with advertisements for high energy, sugar and fatty foods. Children, on average, view over 40,000 television commercials during their chidlhood (CF: Kunkel & Gantz, 1992). A study done by Grund, Krause, Siewers, Rieckert, and Muller in 2001 concluded that children who do not participate in regular physical activity and watch a lot of television are more likely to be obese. Aside from the creation of the Wii Fit video game program, there is arguably no technology or media that has been developed with the main intention of getting the viewer participant physically active.
Other cultures have decided to regulate food advertisements during children's program, but we rely on those funds in the U.S. to pay for our programming. To that end, if we cannot reduce the amount of advertisements for foods, we need to increase our physically active programming and find ways to get our young people active during their television viewing and media use.
In pursuit of further information about the television industry's connection to childhood obesity, I read a chapter from the book The Children's Television Community. This book has given me a much better understanding about the different responsibilities of those in the community and their thoughts about pressing issues in the business. I was excited to start the article "Super-Sized Kids: Obesity, Children, Moral Panic, and the Media" by Rebecca Herr Stephenson and Sarah Banet- Weiser. Unfortunately, the article focused more closely on alternative environmental factors rather than taking accountability for television's impact on the epidemic and posing possible solutions and states that "for companies producing media products for children, the extension of the network brand to the supermarket is an important form of promotion for shows and movies." I support their point of view that children should be taught to navigate media, however, that would require resources for education and parental assistance that are scarce and difficult have been traditionally difficult to acquire in our culture.
Michelle Obama recently launched the Let's Move program to promote 60 minutes of child physical activity a day and support a healthier diet. I leave you with a clip of Mrs. Obama on Sesame Street. I look forward to tracking her progress and strategies!

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