How Does TV Watching Increase the Risk of Obesity? A Closer Look at Food Marketing
TV watching could promote obesity in several ways: displacing time for physical activity; promoting poor diets; giving more opportunities for unhealthy snacking (during TV viewing); and even by interfering with sleep.
The thousands of food-related TV ads that children and youth see each year are primarily for high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and drinks, according to a comprehensive review of the evidence by the Institute of Medicine (IOM).
Food marketing influences children’s food preferences and purchase requests, and marketers rely on this “pester power” to influence what parents buy.
- Branded foods, drinks, and restaurants are often featured in TV shows and movies (the ad industry term for this is “product placement”), and these product placements are overwhelmingly for unhealthy foods. An analysis of food brands that appeared in prime-time television programming in 2008 found that children and teens saw roughly one food brand per day, and three out of four of these brand appearances were for sugary soft drinks
The average American child from age 8 to 18 watches about 4.5 hours of TV each day. Seventy percent have a TV in the bedroom and about one-third of youth aged 6-19 is considered obese.
“The established association between TV and obesity is predominantly based on BMI. The association between TV and fat mass, adiposity stored in specific depots (including abdominal subcutaneous and visceral adipose tissue), and cardiometabolic risk, is less well understood,”
What can we do?
Limit TV and “Sit Time,” Increase “Fit Time” to Prevent Obesity
Parents can limit children’s screen time to no more than two hours per day, and a TV or computer “allowance” device may help with setting limits. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends no screen time for children under the age of 2.
- Making bedrooms TV-free and Internet-free—by removing TV sets or connections, or not putting them there in the first place—can also help us to stay within the two-hour limit, as can turning off the TV during meals.
- Schools, child care centers, and after-school programs can have policies that limit recreational screen time, and are also excellent venues for rolling out screen time reduction programs,such as Planet Health and Eat Well and Keep Moving.
- Healthcare providers can counsel parents to limit their children’s screen time and to become advocates for stricter regulations on TV/media food and beverage advertising to children.
- Staying active helps with weight control, as does limiting sedentary activities—recreational computer time, driving, and the like. So a good strategy is to replace “sit time” with “fit time”