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Getting Fat on Television

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San Francisco Bay Area parents don’t want soft drink vending machines in their schools. Nor do they like the idea of having advertisements promoting food and beverages to their children in their educational environments. They are also likely to have their kids involved in organized sports on an annual basis.

So says information extracted from a Kaiser Family Foundation study in conjunction with the San Jose Mercury News, which looks into America’s rising childhood obesity rates. While it sounds like parents are making wise decisions, there are a couple of other issues lingering at home that are becoming the major suspects in determining why our children are putting on pounds faster than ever before.

The same study also reveals some of the greatest problems lie in daily habits. A child may have had a sports experience in the past year, but on a day-to-day basis, he or she is unlikely to engage in physical activity – including the simple act of walking or riding a bike to school. (Bay Area parents cite fear of traffic danger, crime, and distance as the three top reasons for not letting children transport themselves.)

This removal of daily exercise is aggravated by a high tendency to choose other activities that require no physical exertion – namely watching television and using a computer. Amazingly, these media activities take up the vast majority of Bay Area children’s time, with three quarters of the parents reporting television viewing of up to two hours per day, and another one-in-five stating their children spend over two hours watching the tube on an average day.

When the TV screen is off, another one is lit up on the computer. According to the surveyed families, a whopping 81% use a computer every day for up to two hours, while another 8% sit staring for over two hours.

The number of hours kids devote to consuming media has convinced researchers these sedentary activities are making huge contributions to the waistlines of young Americans.

Coincidental to the timing of the Kaiser study, The American Psychological Association (APA) recently quoted Dr. William H. Deitz, director of the Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), saying there is “a clear and significant association between TV-viewing and obesity in kids.”

The APA article introduces pediatric specialist Dr. Thomas N. Robinson of Stanford University, who has made another interesting discovery while working on a still-unpublished study. He has determined that kids consume 25% of their daily food intake in front of the television. And when they decrease their viewing time, they eat less.

Although other biological and genetic factors contribute to the fattening up of America (adults are also heavier than ever before), obesity expert James O. Hill of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center (also cited in the APA article), puts thing into perspective: “We have an environment that provides food everywhere—it’s inexpensive, good tasting and served in large portions—and we have a physiology that says, ‘Eat whenever food’s available.’”

This has created a massive societal “mismatch” where less physical activity is required than ever before, yet there is an unprecedented abundance of food.

The solution? Hill says it’s almost too simple—walk 2,000 extra steps per day or roughly a mile. That should burn about 100 calories, which is on average, the excess we are consuming.

So maybe we just need to store the remote control at a friend’s house down the street.

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About the Reviewer: Rod Gustafson

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