The Little Emperor – Part 3 – The Role of Television and Junk Food

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Why is childhood obesity on the rise?

If we look at end-of-the-year photographs of our school-days, chances are that barely two or three children in a class of forty children will be seen to be overweight or obese. But if you do the same with your child’s class, chances are that the number may be double or even three times that number. This is because our children are exposed to the two scourges of modern living-junk food and television.

RELATIONSHIP OF TELEVISION WITH OBESITY IN CHILDREN

Due to the hours of television watched by children and their involvement with the show that they watch, it plays a great role in their lives in more than one way. The hours of television watching are seen to be directly proportional to the levels of child hood obesity. The reasons for this are-

  1. The hours of ‘couch-time’ are reducing the level of physical-activity and this includes games played on mobiles, computers and other screen activity.
  2. Eating in front of the television is common and leads to either eating too much or too little with no thought given to the contents of the plate and taste of the food.
  3. The content of the television ads also influence the choice of food. Children between 2-6 years cannot distinguish between programming and advertising. Consequently, they make choices of food depending on the ads they see on the TV. These ads are very often for non-nutritious, high-calorie snacks.

There are extreme instances where morbidly obese children have been so addicted to television viewing that they have soiled their pants rather than go to the toilet and miss their favorite show.

TELEVISION ADVERTISEMENTS – FACTS and FIGURES

1.) The products featured in advertising commercials on TV are for high-calorie snacks and non-nutritious drinks, frequently with misleading information. A catchy jingle, a favorite cartoon character in the ad, a free gift result in children becoming conditioned to reach out for these foods in the supermarket or refrigerator, even when given a choice of different foods.

2.) The levels of obesity are higher in children watching more than two hours of television per day. For every hour of television watching, the food consumption goes up by nearly 50kcal/day (one-third of the calories needed to be obese).

3.) On an average, children and adolescents spend 30-50 hours each year watching ads for unhealthy foods. The worst sufferers are the children in the age-group between 7-12 years, who are at a crucial juncture of their lives with regard to the food habits and the eating patterns they will set for the rest of their lives.

In our country, no regulation of ad-content means that parents and teachers play a crucial role in directing the right choices in this matter.

JUNK FOOD – A Curse of modern living

A study of 4000 Scottish children by the university of London, proved that children brought up on a diet of junk food versus freshly- cooked foods had significantly lower I.Q s. This study also showed that the effect of junk food on I.Q. occurred as early as the age of three years, as maximum brain growth occurs at this age. So all parents, including those who have children of normal weight need to be wary of junk-food.

Researchers have realized that junk-food produces an addiction which is similar to that is seen in heroin and cocaine addicts. The eating of these foods releases a chemical (neurotransmitter) called ‘dopamine’ which is associated with producing a feeling of pleasure. The person affected is soon so hooked to this pleasurable feeling that he/she continues to eat these foods. Soon, the sight, thought and memory of these foods will create a yearning similar to those in addicts, producing a behavior that results in repeatedly buying and consuming these foods.

Interestingly, this phenomenon is seen not only in obese individuals, but also in fit persons who have obese parents.

Modern parenting is fraught with more challenges than our earlier generations had to face (who never had to contend with junk-food or television watching). Television is an integral part of our lives and will remain so. But the hours and content of our children’s viewing can be changed. Junk food is unhealthy and addictive. So how often we let our children eat junk-food is also a matter for families to deal with together. But the fact remains that supervision of the choices we let children make, affects their future in more ways than one.

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