The Role of the Media in Childhood Obesity Essay

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The Role of the Media in Childhood Obesity

Since 1980 the proportion of overweight children ages 6-11 has tripled. Today about 10% of 2 to 5 year-olds and 15% of 6 to 19 year-olds are overweight. During the same period in which childhood obesity increased, there was also an increase in media targeted to children. Even children ages 6 and under spend as much time with screen media as they do playing outside. Much of the media targeted to children promote foods such as sweets, fizzy drinks and snacks. It is estimated that a child sees approximately 40,000 advertisements a year on TV alone.

A few ways researchers have hypothesised that advertisements may contribute to childhood obesity are:
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Fast food outlets spend 2 million pounds in television ads targeted to children.

Recent years have seen an increase in the number of food products being marketed to children through cross-promotions with popular TV and movie characters. A few examples are SpongeBob Cheez-its, Hulk pizzas and Scooby-Doo marshmallow cereal. Fast food outlets also make frequent use of cross-promotions with children’s media characters. McDonalds and Disney have an exclusive agreement under which Happy Meals include toys from top Disney movies. In the past, Happy Meals have also included toys based on the Teletubbies, which is aimed at children under 4. One study found that 1 in 6 food commercials aimed at children promise a free toy. Many commercials also use cartoon characters to sell products to children, which research has shown to be particularly effective in aiding children’s slogan recall and ability to identify the product.

Advertisements have also promoted unrealistically thin body types as the ideal, which could possibly encourage teenage girls to engage in unhealthy dieting or eating disorders. This suggests television gives children contradictory messages about eating habits and body image: Be thin but eat fatty foods, sweets and salty snacks.

A study carried out by Becker et al into eating disorders in teenage girls aimed to use a naturally occurring setting where
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