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TV Advertising Not the Only Problem in Fight Against Childhood Obesity

by Bryan Morben, UMN Law Student, MJLST Staff

Thumbnail-Bryan-Morben.jpgWhat happened to the days when kids would get together to play a game of football in the neighborhood? Or what about playing with Barbie dolls, cabbage patch kids, or a slumber party? Children today are just not entertaining themselves like this anymore. I have three younger brothers, and all I ever see them doing is sitting on the computer, playing videogames, or watching TV.

All of my brothers are as skinny as it gets, but probably only because they are also very active in school sports, especially hockey. Many other kids their age and younger also waste hours in front of a monitor or TV screen, but without the physical activity. Childhood obesity is turning into what some would call an "epidemic." More than twenty-three million children and teens in the U.S. are overweight or obese, a four-fold increase over the past four decades.

A relatively recent study in Canada suggests that banning fast-food advertising to children may lower obesity rates. For the last thirty-two years in Quebec, it has been illegal for fast-food companies to advertise to kids. Researchers have estimated that as a result, children in Quebec consumed 13.4 to 18.4 billion fewer calories per year. Additionally, Quebec has the lowest childhood obesity rate in Canada.

Childhood obesity is generally the result of eating too many calories and not getting enough physical activity. Banning fast-food advertisements to kids may be one solution to help reduce the first part of that equation. Check out the article "Food Advertising and Childhood Obesity: A Call to Action for Proactive Solutions" in Volume 12, Issue 2 of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology. It gives a great analysis of the relationship between food advertisements and childhood obesity and proposes solutions that may assist in reducing the impact of advertisements on children's health.

But I question whether banning fast-food ads is really the answer we should be focusing on. I think the problem runs deeper than that. If kids were forced to put down the controller or remote and burn off some calories outside they wouldn't be in the position to be watching a fast-food ad in the first place. Let me know what you think the most effective solution might be by commenting below.