Is advertising responsible for Childhood Obesity?
Obesity is a medical disorder in which body fat has gathered to such an extent that it may have a negative effect on the overall health condition of a person (Haslam & James, 2005). People are supposed to be obese when their Body Mass Index (BMI) measurement is greater than 30 Kg / m2 (Haslam & James, 2005).
Obesity is a major problem of United States which affects approximately 34% of adults; one of every five children (4 years old) in America is obese (Obesity in America). Only one percent of obese people are obese due to glandular problems. Unbalanced and unhealthy diet is the major cause of obesity.
Childhood obesity is a health condition when excess fat is accumulated within the child’s body and serves as a negative omen for its upbringing and sustenance. Even though the precise method for the determination of body fat is difficult, it is basically the obesity caused by this body fat that can easily serve as an indirect determinant of fat deposition through the Body Mass Index analysis (BMI).
Even though the problem of obesity is very common in almost all countries it is the United States in particular that has one of the highest rates of obesity present even in children. One of the most adverse effects of such high rates of obesity in children is that it acts as a starting point in becoming the key reason for other harmful diseases such as cardiac malfunctioning, diabetes and kidney diseases.
This paper emphasizes on the issue that media and advertising do play an important role in increasing childhood obesity.
Fast food and childhood obesity
Daily diet and its nature are highly significant in determining the cause of childhood obesity. A number of researches that were conducted at school level by nutritionists showed that the diet consumed by children on everyday basis and especially in their schools are highly influential in either reducing or increasing their body mass but it is not the sole factor that dictates the entire phenomenon.
One of the studies that were conducted in this context showed that when 5, 106 children diet plan was designed in order to reduce their body fat and obese body shapes. However, the results obtained showed that even the consumption of fatty diet underwent reduction, the BMI of students showed no significant alleviation.
The reason which contributed to the non-fulfillment of such research objectives was primarily attributed to the fact that it is not solely the school environment but all other places such as home environment and peer groups that need to play their role in reducing the menace of obesity among children. In the form of peer gatherings and outings with friends, children consume calorie-rich food and sugar laden beverages which cause a profound increase in obesity among children.
A study that was conducted with 548 students over a period of 19 months showed that the likelihood of obesity increases 1.6 times for every extra soft drink that is consumed per day. Fast food has become a dietary symbol nowadays with food chains like KFC and McDonalds deceptively interpreting it with healthy lifestyle. (Dubois, 2006)
Statistics reveal that this kind of food is highly popular among children which are vindicated by the fact that over 75% of fast food consumers are 7 and 12 grade students. Some studies have also found that restaurants situated near schools are likely to be contributing more to obesity among students than others located far.
It is also important to mention that with increasing prevalence of obesity among children, a law was passed which banned the use of snack vending machines in school settings in some localities.
How media affects our lives
Technology and Media has transformed not only what people think about but how we think (Dworetz, 1987). As the storehouse of knowledge became more accessible to more people, scholars could go beyond merely replicating that knowledge and concentrate on reflecting upon and changing it. Culture’s knowledge become less fixed and human began to search for alternative truths.
In order to understand how the use of technology and latest gadgets by parents affect the mental development of children, Sherry Turkle, director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology has done extensive research for five years. She said that, “Over and over, kids raised the same three examples of feeling hurt and not wanting to show it when their mom or dad would be on their devices instead of paying attention to them: at meals, during pickup after either school or an extracurricular activity, and during sports events” (Decker, 2010). These new toys of technology are so gripping and absorbing that it make them parents to forget their primary duty – parenting.
It has often been believed that these technology gadgets make people their slaves and people feel more absorbed and find it difficult to concentrate even when they are not engaged with their laptop or cell phones. This kind of behavior is rarely seen in people who are involved in hobbies other than these technological gadgets. People, who are extensively engaged in playing games on computer or game consoles, do not make use of their mental abilities.
Advertising and Obesity
Advertising played a major role in increasing the fast food popularity in America. To be more precise, when children are in the growing process they tend to imitate everything they see without reasoning if what they see is right or wrong. Statistics revealed that in 2004 the total expenditure of different food items including fast food restaurants was approximately $11.26 billion.
Fast food advertisers target ethnic minorities directly through their own media outlets and programs. Food items which are advertised for ethnic minorities are usually unbalanced and unhealthy as compared to the food advertised for general audience. Research conducted in 2005 depicted that more than 52 percent of food items advertisement published in Hispanic fashion and social magazines were advertised unhealthy and unbalanced food as compared to 29 percent such advertisements published in general magazines (Duerksen et. al., 2005).
Fast food items advertising usually target children in order to create and establish brand loyalty at an early age. Among the six brands which have enjoyed very strong recognition in children, four are related to food, i.e. Cheerios, McDonald’s, Pop-Tarts, and Coke (Comiteau, 2003). These companies relied on the fact that the children would emotionally connected to these companies even in their adulthood (Comiteau, 2003).
Nevertheless, recent research shows that consumers prefer to buy fast food from supermarkets. Because they have the perception that supermarkets provide healthier food options ( Advertising and marketing very significantly influence the buying behavior of people and the notion cannot be rejected in totality that frequent use of this unhealthy food is a major cause of increasing obesity. According to a study, television advertisements and television viewing is directly associated with popularity of junk food (Bowman et al., 2004).
Most children today fail to engage and indulge themselves in exercise because they spend too much time in front of watching TV programmes, playing video games or surfing the internet all of which contributes to laziness in their lifestyle and daily routine (Peter, 2005). Research has proved that children are 21.5% are more likely to suffer from obesity if they watch more than four hours of television every day.
Similarly this risk also increases by 4.5% if children spend more than one hour on computer. Even the technology factor cannot be termed as singly responsible for the prevalence and presence of obesity until it is not influenced by other associated components also.
Although advertising do affect the eating habit of children which ultimately leads to childhood obesity but the percentage of advertising effect is much lower than parental influence. Every culture has its own values, philosophies, and the way to react to the things occurring in their lives. These reactions depend upon the culture they belong too.
In present family structure and busy life it has been observed that the increasing communication deficit between parents and children has created a gulf between parents and children. This changed life style, especially in low-income and single-parent families, has compelled the children to take unhealthy and junk food more often than required.
The number of single parent household is continuously increasing in United States. Such single parents not only have to work to earn a respectable living but also have to prepare food for the family. For such persons junk and unhealthy food is an easy and cost effective solution.
Similarly, decline in physical activities among children is also one of the reasons of increasing rate of their obesity. Media and technology have changed our society significantly. Now children do not have time to socialize with each other because now they have Internet and other technological toys which have something for everyone.
Children take less interest in physical plays and socializing with each other than playing Computer games and Internet. Computers and Internet is an integral part of every household, school and the life of every teenager of today.
According to a survey, almost 99 percent of the teens have exposure to the computers and 82 % of the teens have strong computer skills. Children, who are continuously using Internet, are addictive to it because they feel emotional attachment towards their online friends.
This environment helps people and especially youth, to escape from the harsh realities of life and help them to take shelter in the world of dreams and happiness. Internet is a dreamland for lonely and emotionally disturbed people where they create their own make-believe world. Thus they become addictive to their dream world.
The phenomenon of childhood obesity is not contributed by a single neither a sole component is responsible for the occurrence of this health menace. In fact it is influenced by collective factors such as parental influence, decline in physical activities due to watching television, playing with technological innovations and watching advertisements.
It is also important to mention that from the statistics and research information presented has been able to provide us concrete evidence that household food and diet is much more nutritious and healthy as compared to junk food items and edibles.
Thus, we can conclude that, although advertising play an important role in childhood obesity but it is not solely responsible for it and there are a lot of other influences which play their part in childhood obesity.