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Simple Change Could Reduce Obesity in U.S. by 20 Percent

December 13, 2008 | 157,305 views

obesity, overweight, children, teens, advertising, ads, food ads, marketing, TV, television, TV ads, junk foodAccording to a new study, a ban on fast food advertisements in the United States could reduce the number of overweight children by as much as 18 percent. In addition, the study reports that eliminating the tax deductibility of television advertising would also result in a reduction of childhood obesity.

The study’s authors found that a ban on fast food television advertisements during children's programming would reduce the number of overweight children ages 3-11 by 18 percent, and would lower the number of overweight adolescents ages 12-18 by 14 percent.

Should the U.S. pursue this path, they would be following Sweden, Norway and Finland, which are thus far the only countries to have banned commercial sponsorship of children's programs.

Research indicates that there is an 80 percent chance an overweight adolescent will be an obese adult. Over 300,000 deaths can be attributed to obesity and weight in the United States every year.


Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Did you know that each week, the typical American child takes in some 38 hours (yes, a full work week) of commercial media, with its endless ads and deceptions?

Corporate advertisers are continuously wedging themselves in between you and your children. They enlist the best psychologists and market researchers money can buy to lure your kids to products and values you may not approve of and even abhor.

On their own, most parents are ill equipped to contend with the nation's largest corporations and their weapons of mass childhood seduction.

And for kids, their role as “consumer superstars” has led to an epidemic of marketing-related diseases. American kids are fatter than ever, and rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes are soaring.

Could Banning Junk Food Ads During Kids’ TV Programs Make a Difference?

Childhood obesity has more than doubled in the past 25 years. About 30 percent of U.S. children are now overweight, and, childhood diabetes has increased 10-fold in the last 20 years.

There are many established reasons for this sharp decline in the health of our youth, but little research has been done to determine just how big a role television advertising plays.

This study, the largest of its kind, measured the number of hours of fast food messages were viewed by children on a weekly basis, and was able to directly tie childhood obesity to fast food advertising on American television.

They concluded that banning fast food TV ads during children's programming would reduce the number of overweight children ages:

  • 3-11 by 18 percent
  • 12-18 by 14 percent

I believe this relatively minor change in advertising habits actually could make a noticeable dent in the current obesity epidemic plaguing our children.  

But curtailing childhood obesity rates would require more than simply banning junk food ads during children’s programming. Perhaps even more important than limiting ads would be to limit TV viewing altogether. 

How Many Hours Does Your Child Spend Watching TV, and What Does it REALLY Do to Their Health? 

An astonishing 90 percent of American children under age 2, and as much as 40 percent of babies under 3 months old, watch TV regularly.

And, while much of the debate focuses on advertising messages and violent or sexually explicit programming, and their impact on young minds, TV may be harmful no matter what your kids are watching. 

More than half of American children have a television in their bedroom; one study put the number at 70 percent. Meanwhile, a growing body of research shows strong links between a TV in the bedroom and numerous health and educational problems, including: 

  • Lower scores on school tests
  • Sleep problems
  • Increased risk of smoking, and
  • Obesity  

Of course, if your child has a TV in their bedroom, they are far more likely to watch more TV, and be exposed to more advertising. One study, published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, found that having a TV in the bedroom increased viewing time by nearly nine hours a week!. 

All of this time spent watching TV and/or playing video games, equates to a direct reduction of the time spent outdoors, pursuing more active forms of leisure, which naturally has a detrimental effect on your child’s weight and overall health. 

When researchers put monitoring devices on the televisions to reduce the children’s viewing time by half (by not allowing the TV to turn on once the quota was reached), they found that:

  • Relative body mass index dropped
  • Children snacked less, consuming more than 100 calories less per day

So yes, fast food advertising is most certainly a culprit in this battle, but it’s not the only one.

Obesity is Only One of the 15 Side Effects of Watching TV

Numerous other studies have also found links between health and mental problems and TVs. One researcher, Dr. Sigman, has identified no less than 15 negative effects he believes can be blamed on watching television:  

1. Obesity
2. Trouble healing
3. Heart trouble
4. Decreased metabolism
5. Eyesight damage
6. Alzheimer’s disease
7. Decreased attention span
8. Hormone disturbances
9. Cancer
10. Early puberty
11. Autism
12. Sleep difficulties
13. Increased appetite
14. Limited brain growth
15. Diabetes

Watching TV also has a major impact on your brain chemistry. In fact, the longer you watch, the easier your brain slips into a receptive, passive mode, meaning that messages are streamed into your brain without any participation from you.

This is an advertiser’s dream, and likely one of the reasons why advertising directed at children and teens works so well.  

How Can You Take Back Control Of Your Child’s Health?

I think it’s important to remember that, in the end, you as a parent are not entirely powerless. Your children will, and do, follow your example. This is why it’s so important to foster a healthy lifestyle that includes the entire family, and to take the time to discuss your knowledge with your children.

When a toddler recognizes the golden arches of McDonald’s before they can speak in full sentences, you can’t blame it all on advertising, even though that plays a role…

I have four powerful recommendations for you and your child to follow that can have a dramatic impact on your mind and body:

    1. Increase exercise!

    2. Eliminate soda. Children can easily dramatically cut down on the amount of sugar they consume by cutting out soft drinks and juice, and ONLY drinking water. Remember, each daily soda increases your obesity risk by 60 percent!

    3. Limit or eliminate TV time. TV is one of the most pernicious influences on a child and I couldn't recommend stopping it more strongly. Not only will cutting out TV time increase their activity level, and promote more intellectual pursuits, but it will also dramatically reduce their exposure to commercials promoting worthless foods.

    4. Teach your child healthy shopping habits during your weekly food shopping. Remember, the unhealthiest foods in your local supermarket are located in the isles, so shopping for most of your groceries around the perimeter can be a great way to ease into healthier shopping habits, until you’re ready to pursue a mostly organic lifestyle and purchasing most of your foods from local, organic farmers.

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