A statement released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on Monday explains why TV watching makes us obese, and lack of physical movement is only part of the equation. The lead author of the report, Dr. Victor Strasburger, says, “We created a perfect storm between media use, junk and fast food advertising, and physical inactivity.”
The AAP report lists four reasons why media and obesity are connected:
- Increased sedentary activity displaces physical activity
- Unhealthy eating practices are learned from programming and advertising
- Snacking habits increase while viewing
- Late-night media use can interfere with normal sleep patterns
Today, one in six American children and teenagers are overweight, a figure that has doubled in the last three decades. The report references several studies that demonstrate an established link between TV watching and increased BMI (Body Mass Index).
Despite the combination of factors at play, the media has focused most heavily on the role of advertising for obvious reasons. The report notes that in 2009 the fast food industry spent a staggering 4.2 billion dollars on advertising across media platforms. The junk food message is clearly hitting its target. Children view an estimated 11 food advertisements for every hour of TV they watch, the majority of which promote junk food (e.g. products that are high in sodium, sugar or fat and lacking in nutritional value—think Doritos).
According to another study referenced in the journal, childhood obesity could be reduced by 5% to 7% simply by terminating federal tax deductions for fast food ads. Activist groups have targeted McDonald’s in particular, calling for the removal of happy meal toys in high-calorie meals and the retirement of famed mascot Ronald McDonald.
What should parents do? They are urged to keep TV and internet out of children’s bedrooms, limit non-educational viewing time to under 2 hours per day (none for children under 2), and to ask congress to curb junk food advertising.
What’s your take? Should fast food be legislated? Chime in in the comments.