• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Friday 15th June, 2007

Showing kids that obesity isn’t Phat

The childhood obesity epidemic is so severe in the US that policymakers are fretting about the eating habits of animated movie characters. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, for example, recently complained about the lovable – but fat – ogre 'Shrek.' “Kids love Shrek so if Shrek says, ‘Eat Cheetos,’ then kids want to eat Cheetos… So why isn't Shrek advertising fresh fruits, vegetables, healthy choices?’Harkin’s argument that messages in the media are a possible cause or are at least an aggravating aspect of the obesity problem is supported in an article in Social Policy Report. The authors observe that in most western countries the number of overweight children is on the rise. In the US one in three 6-19 year olds are in that class or at risk of becoming so, according to a National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey.Who is to blame? Certainly, genetics play a role, but evidence is emerging that outside influences are also at work. The authors of the Social Policy Report article note that the average child is exposed to 40,000 TV commercials a year. They found that children watching five hours of television a day are more than four times more likely to be obese than children watching up to two hours. By various measures, children’s lives have become more sedentary. They are watching more TV and spending less time in physical education classes or walking about their neighborhoods – hardly surprising since many suburban communities are designed to be car-friendly to the point of having no sidewalks. Families are also eating out more and restaurant food tends to be higher in calories than meals prepared at home. The authors also note that vending machines in schools are readily accessible sources of fattening food for children.The report by Jenelle Krishnamoorthy, Chantelle Hart, and Elissa Jelalian reviews evidence of the effectiveness of various approaches to preventing and treating obesity, including school-based interventions, whole community approaches and weight loss programs. They note that school programs, perhaps the most common approach, have demonstrated only modest success.Because there are multiple causes of the epidemic, the solution also must be multifaceted. Government can help by better controlling what foods are offered in schools and providing more funding for physical education, instituting regulations (common in some European countries) to reduce junk food marketing to kids, supporting media campaigns and community programs that promote healthy eating, and subsidizing the costs of fresh produce while taxing soft drinks and snack foods. The authors also suggest that parents limit their children’s daily television intake to no more than two hours and that US corporations offer their employees health insurance that covers obesity prevention services.

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