Is television making you fat?

The problem with television is it's too _____ [fill in the blank]. Maybe you think that television is too liberal, too conservative or too violent. But, have you ever considered that it is too fattening?

In September, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate and Kansas Republican Senator Sam Brownback announced the formation of the Media and Childhood Obesity: Today and Tomorrow task force. Brownback said, “Judging by the sheer volume of media and advertising that children consume on a daily basis, and given alarming trends in childhood obesity, we're facing a public health problem that will only get worse unless we take action.”

At first, one might think this was just political hot air to start another government-funded program. Unfortunately, there's some serious truth behind the issue.

Nearly one-third of American children between the ages of 5 and 14 are obese, compared with one in six 30 years ago. (People are considered obese if their BMI is greater than 30. They are considered overweight if their BMI is 25 to 30. BMI is calculated by dividing a person's weight by the square of their height (w/h2), all expressed in meters and kilograms. Use this site to calculate your BMI:

Fifteen percent of today's children aged 6 to 9 are considered overweight, 4 percent more than in the previous study. Even worse, since 1960, obesity has grown by 54 percent in children ages 5 to 11 and by 40 percent in adolescents.

Unfortunately, we adults aren't setting a good example either because nearly one-third of American adults, close to 59 million, are obese. So what does television have to do with all this?

Researchers claim that children need to stop watching so much television and play more. A study at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine along with the CDC and NIH found that as children increased their consumption of television, their weight increased as well.

More than one-fourth of American children watch at least four hours of television a day. By the time a student graduates from school, the child will have spent between 15,000 and 18,000 hours watching television, but only 12,000 hours in school.

The study also shows that 42 percent of school children eat their dinner while watching television. Overweight children consumed 50 percent of their dinners in front of the television. Only 35 percent of normal-weight children ate while watching television. The research indicates that if you're watching television, you aren't paying attention to what, or how much, you're eating.

At last spring's NAB convention, Jim Davidson, executive director of the Advertising Coalition, said advertising wasn't the cause of children being overweight. If so, how does he explain the fact that the more television you watch the fatter you are?

While there is no reason to kill the messenger (television), we do need to get our kids — and ourselves — off the couch and exercise more. We'll all pay a price in higher health insurance and increased illnesses if we don't.

Send comments