Television and Media Influence on Obesity

There might be something that is startling to some people who have already typecast obesity in the American culture. It’s something that has not been dealt with by guardians, friends and parents who are obese but by television. The days are long past when we could consider TV to be an innocent, innocuous part of daily life or a casual babysitter.  It is a powerful, persuasive teacher and a primary companion to our children. 

Considering that some members of the average family watch more than seven hours of TV per day, it is not surprising that modern research says that human development and behavior are substantially affected by television to a degree far exceeding earlier judgments

Unfortunately, this medium, which has been used for much good, has increasingly been misused.  The number of programs and commercials that conflict with good moral standards is steadily rising, and few viewers demonstrate enough self-discipline to resist.  Some of today’s teenagers don’t even realize what hidden messages they are receiving – and little by little they subconsciously come to accept them as normal or appropriate.

Consider, for example, the simple commercial of McDonalds. Beautiful, sexy, alluring models are used to endorse the Big Mac, with large chunks shown by these models that never have a pimple on their unblemished skins.  They smile tauntingly, enticing viewers to take a big bite while studying or chatting with friends.  Of course, it takes a discriminating teenager to realize that eating that continuously creates thick waistlines, pimpled faces and a slow mental capacity.

Each year the average teenager watches approximately 22,000 commercials – 5,000 of them for food products, the majority of which are high-sugar, high-calorie, and low-nutrition items.  Research indicates that 67 percent of Saturday morning commercials are for sugared cereals, candy bars, and other sweets. 

Only 3 percent of TV food ads are for fruits and vegetables. The different value meals portrayed on prime-time television are anything but balanced and far from relaxed. On TV, snacking (39 percent of all eating-drinking incidents) is almost as common as breakfast, lunch and dinner combined (42 percent).

During daytime, weekend children’s programs, snacking comprises 45 percent of all eating events, while regular meals constitute only 24 percent.  Fruits are chosen as snacks on television only 4 to 5 percent of the time. Clearly, TV does not promote good eating habits.

In his December 8, 2003 PrimeTime report, ABC anchor Peter Jennings looked for new regulations: "The Bush administration urges Americans to exercise more and eat healthier. But there is no sign that government will obligate the food industry to change how they make and market food, and no sign whatsoever that government will try to change agricultural policies, so as to benefit the public health."

Dealing with the various problems of teenage obesity and its link to television is not going to be easy.  There are numerous factors that have to be considered and people to be convinced.  This problem will, no doubt, never go away and continue to get worse if left unattended. There are measures that should be taken by the authorities. After all, what’s the world going to be like when the people who are now teenagers are running the world?