The Best Way to Reduce Childhood Obesity

In a move designed to fend off potential litigation and possible state and federal advertising regulations, eleven of the nation’s food and beverage companies have come up with their own guidelines regarding junk food advertising aimed at children under 12. According to the Los Angels Times, the voluntary ban includes junking ads for "candy bars, soda pop, and sugar-laden cereals, including such brands as Trix – famously advertised for decades as being ‘for kids.’"

While the pledges from companies such as General Mills, McDonalds, Pepsi, and Kraft may come as a welcome relief to parents tired of their children’s constant demands for sugary treats, it will do nothing to decrease the number of the nation's overweight and obese children.

Numerous studies have shown that a bigger contributor to childhood obesity isn’t the amount of junk food advertisements children are exposed to, but the amount of television they watch. One 2003 study concluded that children who watch three or more hours of television a day are 50 percent more likely to be obese than kids who watch fewer than two hours and that "more than 60% of overweight incidents can be linked to excess TV viewing." Another found that in "12- to 17-year-old adolescents, the prevalence of obesity increased by 2% for each additional hour of television viewed."

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, when you include videos, DVD’s, and other prerecorded shows, children watch about four hours of television a day. Times that by seven days a week and that means kids, on average, are spending slightly more than an entire day in front of the boob tube. The amount of television viewed shouldn’t come as a complete surprise considering the average home now has more televisions (2.73) than people (2.55) and one third of children as young as six have a television in their bedroom.

With the copious amounts of television being watched in American households, is it any wonder kids are becoming fat?

The solution to the growing obesity problem doesn't involve government advertising regulations or lawsuits against the junk food companies but, quite simply, better parenting.

In too many households television has become the babysitter, entertainer, and parent. It’s become the easy way to keep them entertained, distracted, and out of a mom or dad’s way for a couple hours. And while letting children watch an occasional DVD or cartoon in order to accomplish housework or other tasks may be at times necessary, letting children watch hours upon hours of television every day is simply irresponsible.

Turning off the television may at first invoke weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth from kids used to doing nothing else but staring at a screen with blank expressions, but being a parent often involves telling their children no and, if necessary, providing alterative activities.

Sadly, most kids probably get their television viewing habits from their parents. Those who watch a lot of television are probably most likely to have parents who also watch a lot of television. Part of getting kids off the couch and involved in more physical and meaningful activities may include getting their television-addicted parents doing something as well.

The results of a decrease television viewing can be very rewarding. Not only may kids (and adults) shed a few pounds but their school work might improve and family relationships become stronger.

I can defiantly attest to the latter. Even though I occasionally enjoy watching programs on our one TV (yes, we only have one), at the end of the day I’ve always found the time better spent with my wife and kids and have never regretted missing a sporting event or news program to spend time with them.

Curbing the numbers obese or overweight children doesn’t require government regulation or even self-regulation from the food and beverage industry (though the latter is appreciated). The solution begins at home with parents who can turn off the TV, remove it from their child’s room, monitor what their children are eating, and involve their kids in more engaging, stimulating, and ultimately more rewarding activities.

The result could change families and a nation for the better.


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This essay was originally published on You can read all of Abel's FreeCapitalist essays here.