The Effects of Media on Child Obesity


Obesity is a health issue that affects many individuals in the US. In recent decades, there has been a steady increase in the number of children with obesity. A report by the Centers for Disease Control indicates that childhood obesity has increased by more than 100% in the past three decades (par.1). As of 2010, 18% of children aged between 6 and 11 were classified as obese, while only 7% of children in the US were obese in 1980. This phenomenon has led to a decline in the health of the children affected since childhood obesity is linked to several physical and psychosocial health problems. Due to the negative effect of reduced quality of life caused by obesity, researchers have attempted to uncover the factors that have led to an increase in childhood obesity.

While there are multiple reasons behind the high number of child obesity cases in the country, the media has been singled out as one of the major contributors to childhood obesity. Must and Parisi note that children today spend more time than ever before engaged in inactive pursuits with 25% of children watching more than 3 hours of TV each day (82). This has led to links being made between media consumption and obesity in children. This paper will demonstrate that the media has contributed to the prevalence of childhood obesity in the country by highlighting the effects that the media has on child obesity.

Effects of Media on Child Obesity

The greatest effect of media on child obesity is from advertisements that promote obesity in several ways. To begin with, the advertisements increase the desire for the particular unhealthy food products being promoted on TV. Advertisements are aimed at increasing product sales by persuading a person to purchase a particular good. Children are very impressionable, and they are likely to be influenced by what they watch on TV. Research indicates that advertisements increase the probability will purchase or request for the product advertised from her parent (Bakir and Vitell 300). The advertisements promote unhealthy eating habits by influencing children’s food choices. One of the core aims of advertisements is to inform the public of the presence of certain products. By advertising fast foods to children, the media brings it to the children’s attention that certain products exist. Bakir and Vitell highlight that advertisements directly influenced the breakfast cereals and snack preferences among 5 and six-year-olds (299).

The media has created a favorable attitude by children towards Unhealthy foods such as snacks, fast foods, and sodas. The media presents unhealthy foods as good and fun products that bring joy and fulfillment to the consumer. Children are therefore persuaded to think that these products are useful to them. The favorable attitude has also been created by linking these products to admired celebrities or cartoon characters. By using celebrities and popular cartoon characters to sponsor or advertise high fat and high sugar foods, the media creates the impression that it is fashionable to indulge in the advertised products (184).

The positive attitude towards unhealthy foods leads to increased consumption, and this promotes obesity in children. The link between advertisements and obesity is best shown by reports indicating that a 32-year ban imposed on fast-food advertising in Quebec led to a decrease in the level of fast food sales in the region and subsequently, a notable reduction in the level of childhood obesity in the Province (Musemeche par. 3). In contrast to this, child-focused advertisement of fast foods continues unrestricted in the US, contributing to the growing childhood obesity problem that the country faces.

Media consumption is a sedentary activity, and such behaviors are linked to the prevalence of obesity. Watching TV is an activity that does not require much movement since the individual is seated while engaging in this activity. The level of TV viewing and media use has increased dramatically in the past few decades. Children of various ages spend a significant amount of their free time engaged in various forms of media. Poskitt and Edmunds reveal that children spend many hours viewing the wide range of programmers available on TV (183). As such, the media promotes sedentary behavior and directly reduces the times that children spend engaged in physical activity. Marshall and Biddle explain the prevalence of sedentary behaviors such as TV watching displaces physical activity (1239). Without excessive television watching, children would spend their leisure time taking part in physically involving activities such as playing with their friends.

Media has also contributed to child obesity by encouraging high-energy intake while the child is engaged with the media. Must and Parisi reveal that TV viewing is associated with high-energy intake since it delays normal mealtime satiation (83). When a child is eating while viewing TV, he/she is likely to spend more time eating. This leads to a higher intake when exposed to TV since the consumption of a single meal might last for more than an hour. In addition to this, TV encourages the consumption of fast foods. Most children are likely to consume snacks while they are engaging in their viewing.

Discussion and Conclusion

Childhood obesity continues to be an issue of great concern to policy makers and health care professionals in the country. The discussions made in this paper demonstrate that the media plays a role in exacerbating the situation. The concerns about media effects on childhood obesity have prompted some countries to enact laws that prohibit the advertisement of unhealthy foods to children below the age of 16. The Canadian province of Quebec has imposed such a ban with positive effects. This demonstrates that any effective solution to the childhood obesity problem must address the huge impact that media has on the problem.

This paper set out to show that the media has contributed to the rise in childhood obesity cases in the country. It began by highlighting the rise in obesity rates within the last three decades. From the evidence given in this paper, it is clear that the prevalence and severity of obesity among children in the country have been caused by the media. Specifically, the decrease in physical activity encouraged by an increase in sedentary behavior and the effect of child-targeted fast-food advertisements are mostly to blame. The role of media in childhood obesity promotion must be addressed for the obesity problem to be alleviated. If this is done, children will be able to benefit from better health and improved quality of lives in the long term.

Works Cited

Bakir, Arki and Vitell Jin. “The Ethics of Food Advertising Targeted Toward Children: Parental Viewpoint.” Journal of Business Ethics 91.1 (2010): 299-311. Web.

Centers for Disease Control. Obesity – Facts: Adolescent and School Health. 2013. Web.

Marshall, Steve and Biddle Jane. “Relationships between media use, body fatness and physical activity in children and youth: a meta-analysis.” International Journal of Obesity & Related Metabolic Disorders 28.10 (2004): 1238-1246. Web.

Musemeche, Catherine. “Ban on Advertising to Children Linked to Lower Obesity Rates.” The New York Times. 2012. Web.

Must, Anne and Parisi, Smith. “Sedentary behavior and sleep: paradoxical effects in association with childhood obesity.” International Journal of Obesity 33.1 (2009): 82-86. Web.

Poskitt, Elizabeth and Edmunds Laurel. Management of Childhood Obesity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Print.