Obesity in Children and Adolescents Linked to Media

Even brief exposure to advertising may influence children's food choices

MONDAY, June 27 (HealthDay News) -- Media, and specifically television viewing, may be correlated with childhood and adolescent obesity, which is related in part to advertising of unhealthy foods, according to a policy statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and published online June 27 in Pediatrics.

Victor C. Strasburger, M.D., and colleagues from the AAP's Council on Communications and Media, reviewed available literature to assess the correlation between media, particularly television viewing, and obesity. The statement focuses on the association between obesity and media, and mechanisms underlying obesity, and it presents recommendations for dealing with obesity in relation to the media.

The investigators found that children spend an average of seven hours per day with media, which may be correlated with a decrease in physical activity. Increasing physical activity, decreasing media time, and improving nutritional practices may prevent the onset of obesity. Children who watch more television tend to consume more calories, which may result from making unhealthy food choices as a consequence of viewing advertisements, or overeating due to suppression of normal cues of satiety while watching television. Advertising influences children in their food choices, even when the exposure is brief. Television and media disturb sleep patterns, and later bedtimes and less sleep may pose a risk of obesity and increased snacking behavior in adolescents. Recommendations based on these observations include counseling to limit screen times, discussions of food advertising and education about appropriate nutrition, and persuading Congress to ban or regulate children's advertising.

"The sheer number of advertisements that children and adolescents see for junk food and fast food have an effect. So, too, does the shift away from good nutritional practices that increased media screen time seems to create," the authors write.

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