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The role of media in childhood obesity

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The role of media in childhood obesity Since 1980 the proportion of overweight children ages 6-11 has tripled. Today about 10% of 2 to 5 year-olds and 15% of 6 to 19 year-olds are overweight. During the same period in which childhood obesity increased, there was also an increase in media targeted to children. Even children ages 6 and under spend as much time with screen media as they do playing outside. Much of the media targeted to children promote foods such as sweets, fizzy drinks and snacks. It is estimated that a child sees approximately 40,000 advertisements a year on TV alone. A few ways researchers have hypothesised that advertisements may contribute to childhood obesity are: * The food advertisements children are exposed to on TV influence them to make unhealthy food choices. * The cross-promotions between food products and popular TV and movie characters are encouraging children to buy and consume more high-calorie foods. ...read more.


A few examples are SpongeBob Cheez-its, Hulk pizzas and Scooby-Doo marshmallow cereal. Fast food outlets also make frequent use of cross-promotions with children's media characters. McDonalds and Disney have an exclusive agreement under which Happy Meals include toys from top Disney movies. In the past, Happy Meals have also included toys based on the Teletubbies, which is aimed at children under 4. One study found that 1 in 6 food commercials aimed at children promise a free toy. Many commercials also use cartoon characters to sell products to children, which research has shown to be particularly effective in aiding children's slogan recall and ability to identify the product. Advertisements have also promoted unrealistically thin body types as the ideal, which could possibly encourage teenage girls to engage in unhealthy dieting or eating disorders. This suggests television gives children contradictory messages about eating habits and body image: Be thin but eat fatty foods, sweets and salty snacks. ...read more.


Most children under six cannot distinguish between program content and commercials and most children under eight do not understand that the purpose of advertising is to sell a product. Children's advertising guidelines are currently regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which requires compliance before renewing a station's license. Some guidelines show advertising should: not mislead children about the nutritional benefits of products; depict appropriate amounts of a product for the situation portrayed; refrain from portraying snacks as substitutes for meals; and show mealtime products in the context of a balanced diet. Children's TV producers note that banning food advertising or underwriting would remove one of the most lucrative sources of funding for children's television, particularly given the lack of public funds available for that purpose. Sweden, Norway and Finland do not permit commercial sponsorship of children's programs and also do not advertise directly to children under the age of 12. The BBC decided to prohibit use of its cartoon characters in fast food ads and England is pushing for stricter guidelines for advertising aimed at children. ...read more.

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