With the school year starting again soon, here is a story you might appreciate. The story goes that the third-grade teacher saw that little Johnny wasn’t paying attention in class. “Johnny!” she called out from the blackboard. “What are 2 and 4 and 14 and 24?”
Little Johnny thought for a moment before the answer came to him: “I know. NBC, FOX, ESPN, and the Cartoon Network!”
Hmmm….too much TV? Apparently. But the school day lessons may not be all that is affected by excessive TV viewing.
An article titled “Role of TV Ads in Kids’ Obesity? FCC to Study” by the Associated Press (September 27, 2006) reported on the growing concern about the possible correlation between TV ads and childhood obesity. A Federal Communications Commission task force, made up of FCC officials, members of the food, television, and advertising industries, as well as consumer health experts, began studying the link between viewing habits and childhood obesity in 2007.
According to this same article, the FCC estimates that children watch between two and four hours of TV per day and view a barrage of 40,000 TV ads every year—most of them for sugary cereal, chocolate candy, and fast food. It won’t be surprising, then, if the results indicate the obvious: a barrage of junk food ads spurs sales of junk food.
And a barrage it is. Did you know that, according to an October 2006 edition of Pediatrics, if you plop your children in front of the TV on a Saturday morning, their sponge-like brains will be exposed to nearly 130 food-related advertisements?
But that’s not all. Food and beverage companies are spending $15 billion a year on television ads to entice children into eating massive amounts of unhealthy food, according to the Institute of Medicine.
One plausible reason junk food advertisers saturate the airwaves is because they’re aware that children have “pester power,” a unique way to nag their parents into buying something they want. These desires are often fueled by catchy advertisements that rely on cute, seemingly benign characters who make the pitch for the sugary or otherwise unhealthy snack or food.
The result? Young children, usually not knowing the nutritional value or lack thereof of the given advertised item, will repeatedly request that item in hopes that their parents will acquiesce to their demands. And it’s unfortunate, too. “In an era when childhood obesity is exploding, it’s a scandal that our entertainment elite has been blinded by the easy money they’re getting from letting huggable movie characters pitch fat-saturated food,” writes Los Angeles Times columnist Patrick Goldstein.
So what’s a parent to do? You can start by turning off the TV and talking with your kids about good foods and their benefits. Your influence should be the primary one in your household.