New studies confirm TV-obesity link

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Children Percent Obesity Nutrition

Television viewing is a key factor in the nation's growing obesity
epidemic, according to two studies published in this month's
Journal of Pediatrics.

The studies, which focus on the contribution of television to the nation's general "obesogenic environment,"​ are published at a time when television advertising by food companies is coming under closer scrutiny.

They maintain that "screen time activities"​ - including the use of computers and video games- contribute to obesity through encouraging inactiveness and an increased consumption of junk food.

With television being one of the most common recreational activities for the nation's children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended that children should not watch more than two hours per day.

The researchers found that around 40 percent of 5 year old children exceeded the AAP's guidelines, and that each additional hour of television they watched at the weekend over the two-hour recommendation may increase the risk of obesity in 30 year olds by 7 percent.

They also revealed that 40 percent of girls exceeded the two-hour guideline, largely influenced by their parents' excessive TV-watching.

Children's obesity has gained significant attention in the health care and child welfare arenas over the past five years. In 2002, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) cited that 16 percent of children aged 6-11 were overweight, with the same percentage holding true for 12-19 year olds.

Of the estimated 40,000 television commercials children view a year, 32 percent are for candy, 31 percent for cereal, and 9 percent for fast food.

According to research by Kristen Harrison, a speech communication professor at the University of Illinois, these nutrient-poor high-sugar products continue to dominate television advertising aimed at children between the ages of six to 11.

Harrison's research has also revealed that the more television kids watch, the more confused they are about what they should eat, since the advertising intentionally blurs the lines between diet and nutritional foods by "equating weight-loss benefits with nutritional benefits."

Most worrying are the multitude of health risks associated with obesity, such as heart disease and diabetes.

The American Heart Association recently released nutritional guidelines for children, underlining that arteriosclerosis begins at a young age, and that those who follow a poor diet and take too little exercise may already have a build-up of plaque in the arteries by adolescence.

Furthermore, type II Diabetes, which used to be known as adult onset diabetes, is now increasingly being diagnosed in kids, adding to the cardiovascular risk profile of children.

It remains to be seen whether new recommendations from the National Advertising Review Council (NARC), designed to strengthen self-regulation in children's advertising and tackle obesity, will have any impact.

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