Children’s advocates have been saying it for years, but now the medical establishment is warning parents that too much TV watching leads to obesity — not because it’s a sedentary behavior but because of the ads for unhealthy foods that target children and shape their behavior. Kids see 8,000 TV ads for food and beverages and only 165 of them are for fruits and vegetables. This week, the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media has issued a policy statement warning parents that TV is influencing their children to have poor eating habits.
Outside of TV, the world is full of ads and promos that celebrate unhealthy foods. Like smoking, these social cues influence children’s habits. School vending machines carry unhealthy snacks and drinks. Food companies are enticing kids with online video games and what parent hasn’t had to tame a tantrum over saying “no” to a Happy Meal because their child wants the toy.
All this makes the job much harder for the parent who now more than ever must be a strong and consistent educator to counter all the negative messaging reaching children. This comes at a time when parents are pressed for time, struggling financially and in many communities, have difficulties accessing quality fresh produce.
With obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other serious health conditions at dangerously high rates in the U.S. for adults and for children, the time is now to take a serious look at eating habits. The recent warning from the AAP suggests parents limit TV watching time to two hours or less a day. Even better, a parent can say no TV programming and use DVDs exclusively for children to completely limit commercial advertising. Now that doesn’t help when Scooby and Shaggy down a platter of sandwiches. That’s why parents need to know where they stand on nutrition and work to consistently teach and encourage the good habits.