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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

The Key to Fighting Childhood Obesity--a Media Diet?

The Key to Fighting Childhood Obesity--a Media Diet?

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The fact that childhood obesity is a growing epidemic is a point rarely refuted. A cursory scroll through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website provides some undeniable, and frightening, data:
  • Approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years are obese.
  • Since 1980, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled.
  • While everyone seems to be in agreement that childhood obesity is an issue of growing importance, no one seems to agree on the cause. Many blame the growing prevalence of fast-food restaurants. Others blame agressive marketing that targets children in an effort to create life-long customers for unhealthy products. Still others point the finger at the school system, at parents, at manufacturers, and the list goes on. One factor that's currently in the spotlight? Media consumption.

    According to a recently published NPR article, pediatricians are recommending a diet low in media as a means of preventing childhood obesity.
    First, at each well-child visit, pediatricians should ask these two questions: How much time are you spending in front of a screen each day? Is there a TV or device with an Internet connection in your bedroom?
    The answers to these questions could allow doctors to identify inactivity before its negative effects can take their toll. So how much tv time is too much?
    Kids, the pediatricians say, shouldn't spend more than 2 hours a day plopped down in front of the computer, TV or other glowing device. The littlest kids — those 2 and under — shouldn't watch any TV at all.
    For concerned parents, there is some good news: children's programming is evolving to address the issue. Programs like Dance-A-Lot Robot and Imagination Movers are aimed at getting children off of  the couch and onto their feet by incorporating dances and other exercise. So if your little one has trouble peeling away from the screen, use programs like these to make sure they get exercise while they watch.

    Of course children will make the transition from couch potato to active kid a lot easier if you provide them with fun activities, and responsible ways for them to enjoy media. Check out our Funded Projects page to learn about some of the programs available in your area and stay tuned for events and program updates through the Spark Blog!

    Comments (6 Replies)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

    M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
    M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
    Life Skills Support Teacher

    Why not compel kids to tear themselves away from these silly gadgets, go OUTDOORS, run around, and burn off those calories? You don't cure an addictive behavior by increasing exposure to the cause of the addiction. The solution proposed by this article just smacks of everything wrong with modern parenting and theories on child rearing. Also, compel parents to stop allowing TV and computers be their kids' babysitters.

    Alayna Frankenberry's picture
    Alayna Frankenberry
    Social Media Editor for Spark, a program of the Sprout Fund

    The article isn't advocating increased tv use. It advises that parents limit tv time to less than 2 hours a day and that when kids are watching, to try to have them watch shows that encourage a physical aspect.

    M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
    M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
    Life Skills Support Teacher

    It's advocating continued use instead of advocating abstinence, much in the same way certain adults believe giving out condoms to adolescents is justified because they're having sex anyway. Citing an NPR source is as faulty as citing a Fox News source in my estimation, because I know it's going to pushing a partisan agenda. Plus, as a parent, I can't justify pushing anything with the Disney monicker attached to it. Disney tried the same thing twenty years ago with Mousercize at 6 AM and by all accounts, it did little to nothing to change behavior. I am weary of token gestures to combat serious problems. If you want change, you have to enforce radical measures like zero tolerance. It doesn't help when adults in visible public leadership roles preach healthy eating for kids and then publicly profess love for deep fried foods. The hypocrisy abounds, plus the corporations exploit pertinent social issues for profit. My solution to this problem doesn't put one dime in anyone's pocket or win one vote for some greedy politician. It forces adults to wake up and do their jobs as responsible parents.

    Alayna Frankenberry's picture
    Alayna Frankenberry
    Social Media Editor for Spark, a program of the Sprout Fund

    Actually NPR didn't say anything about Disney or tv shows that encourage exercise. I added that part and really most children's networks are producing shows like this. I just chose the Disney shows because they were familiar to me.

    I get what you're saying about parental hypocrisy though. I think we have to adopt the same lifestyle changes we deem healthy for our children. The whole "do as I say, not as I do" mentality doesn't really work. But I also believe that part of teaching children how to become functional members of society lies in teaching them balance and how to deal with things in the way they'll deal with them as adults. Most adults are able to find a balance in their media consumption without completely outlawing things like television. We can't tell kids tv is 100% off-limits and then expect them to magically learn how to integrate it into their lives as adults.

    M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
    M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
    Life Skills Support Teacher

    [quote]We can't tell kids tv is 100% off-limits and then expect them to magically learn how to integrate it into their lives as adults.[/quote]

    The truth is, they might only need to integrate 1% of it, as the rest is garbage. Ditto for the internet. We sadly live in a junk riddled society, where junk food, junk entertainment, and junk media is offered up as quality stuff. This is the result of decades of dumbing down citizens in schools and teaching them that nothing is ever inferior or superior. Many of the adults I see are retro-adolescents who are afraid to become *real* adults, and by *real* adults, I refer the past image of the hard working, no-nonsense adults who didn't have time for self-indulgent childhood preoccupations with toys, gadgets, and games. Sadly, too many of this kind of person are parents and they are teaching kids to grow up in their image.

    Alayna Frankenberry's picture
    Alayna Frankenberry
    Social Media Editor for Spark, a program of the Sprout Fund

    I agree that a lot of what's on the tv and internet is a bit empty when it comes to educational or intellectual value. But don't you just need to unplug sometimes and stare blankly ahead? I know after a 60 hour workweek, watching one half hour of mindless tv can be pretty relaxing. (To be fair though, I can't just sit and watch tv. I always have to be eating or cleaning or doing a craft or else I'll get incredibly bored and fidgety.)

    What I'm trying to say is that not every minute of your life needs to enrich you. You won't be any better or worse for a half hour of mindless entertainment. Its when people take that half hour and turn it into 6 hours that there's a problem.

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