Tube Time Increases Waist Lines
By Rallie McAllister
your kids are spending their free time parked in front of the television
set, they could be at risk for packing on a few extra pounds. Children
who rack up more than five hours of television viewing a day are
nearly five times more likely to be overweight than those who watch
fewer than two hours a day, according to a recent Harvard study.
American Academy of Pediatricians recommends that children's TV
time be limited to two hours each day. Sadly, about 90 percent of
American youngsters currently exceed this guideline. As a sedentary
"activity," excess TV time undoubtedly contributes to
weight gain. The problem is compounded when channel surfing is combined
with snacking, a common practice among U.S. kids.
tend to eat too much while they're watching television, primarily
because they pay more attention to what's on the tube than to what's
in their stomachs. While they're tuned in to the television, they're
tuning out their internal signals of hunger and satiety, and they
may not notice when their stomachs tell them that they've had enough
matter how bad some kids' television programs may seem; the commercial
advertisements that accompany them are likely to be worse. While
kids are enjoying a little entertainment via the airwaves, they're
also being force-fed a steady stream of mind-melding messages. These
messages can undermine good eating habits and ultimately lead to
seductive marketing ploys, manufacturers of kid-targeted junk foods
have a huge negative impact on kids' food preferences. They build
the trap of obesity with sugary, fat-laden, and high calorie foods,
and then lure kids into it using celebrity endorsements, toys, games,
and contests as bait.
advertisements account for roughly half of televised commercials
viewed by kids, and junk foods are among the most heavily advertised
items during children's TV programs. Ninety percent of the foods
advertised are high in fat, sugar, and calories.
the other hand, only 2 percent of all advertisements paid for by
food manufacturers sing the praises of fruits, vegetables, and grains;
and it shows on our nation's kids. Most American children get about
half of their daily caloric intake from fat and sugar that is added
to foods. Only about 1 percent of all U.S. children consume diets
that even remotely resemble the Food Guide Pyramid.
American kids smack dab in the middle of an obesity epidemic, and
with obesity now ranking as the second leading cause of death in
the U.S., you might think that Uncle Same would wade into the food-advertising
fiasco and take some action. The precedence has already been set
with the ban of television ads for cigarettes, and the current restrictions
that apply to televised beer commercials. But so far, it's a no
go. Thankfully, Joe Cool and the Marlboro man are out, and Spudz
McKenzie is on a very short leash; but Ronald McDonald is still
Federal Trade Commission made a valiant effort to regulate advertisements
aimed at kids in the 1970s, but the organization encountered a congressional
roadblock that proved to be insurmountable. Since then, the number
of kid-targeted food commercials has skyrocketed, and the rise in
the number of overweight and obese children is following the same
trend. Currently, more than a third of American children are overweight.
the time the average American child reaches the age of 18, he or
she will have viewed well over a million television commercials.
A large percentage of these ads will have featured high-pressure,
brain-scrubbing messages to eat junk food, and eat lots of it. For
this reason alone, there's little wonder that the more television
kids watch, the more fat, sugar, and calories their diets contain,
and the more likely they are to be overweight.
tough for parents to compete with slick advertising tricks and celebrity
endorsements, but it can be done. You don't have to rip the television
cord from its socket to promote good health in your children. The
simple act of turning off the TV has been proven to help kids eat
less, become more active, and lose weight, even if you do or say
nothing else at all. Several studies have found that when the television
is off, kids naturally eat less and gravitate to more physically
challenging activities. Getting kids off the couch and away from
the TV can be tough for moms and dads, but it's an effort that's
definitely worth making.
Rallie McAllister, MD, the author of Healthy Lunchbox: The Working
Mom's Guide to Keeping You and Your Kids Trim (LifeLine Press, September
2003), runs a family practice specializing in nutrition, wellness,
and weight loss called Healthy Solutions, in Kingsport, Tennessee.
Dr. McAllister is the creator and popular host of Rallie On Health,
a health magazine TV show with over 1 million viewers in the five-state
area of eastern Tennessee. Millions across the country also know
her for her weekly nationally syndicated column called "Your
Health by Dr. Rallie McAllister." Dr. McAllister lives with
her husband and three children in Kingsport, Tennessee. Visit Rallie