Obesity experts have been saying for years that children who sit in front of the TV screen day in and day out tend to be heavier. It's the sedentary lifestyle. But now experts are finding it's not only the couch potato effect, but the television ads children are watching, along with other factors that can add inches to their waistlines.
According to a new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics, titled, “Children, Adolescents, Obesity and the Media," junk food and fast food ads increase a child's desire to eat those types of foods. Studies also show that snacking while watching the tube increases. And if kids stay up late at night while watching the tube or playing video games, their lack of sleep can be a major factor in raising their risk for obesity.
“We’ve created a perfect storm for childhood obesity – media, advertising, and inactivity,” said the statement’s lead author, Dr.Victor Strasburger, a member of the AAP Council on Communications and Media. “American society couldn’t do a worse job at the moment of keeping children fit and healthy – too much TV, too many food ads, not enough exercise, and not enough sleep.”
The statement recommends a number of tips so parents can help curb their children's weight. They include:
-Discussing food advertising with their children as they monitor children’s TV viewing and teach them about good nutrition.
– Limiting a child's time in front of a TV monitor and avoid putting TV sets and Internet connections in children’s bedrooms.
– And be aware that kids with high levels of screen time also have more stress, putting them at risk not only for obesity but for a number of other conditions such as diabetes, mood disorders and asthma.
"Thirty years ago, the federal government ruled that young children are psychologically defenseless against advertising. Now, kids see 5,000 to 10,000 food ads per year, most of them for junk food and fast food,” said Strasburger.
The AAP also recommends that pediatricians ask two questions about media exposure when parents bring their children in for checkups. How much time is the child spending on screens each day? And is there a TV set or Internet connection in the child's bedroom?
“Having the conversation around these two questions can go a long way toward a thoughtful approach to each family’s – and each child’s – media use, and that can quickly translate into healthier choices and healthier weight,” Strasburger said.
The policy statement can be found in the current issue of the journal Pediatrics.