Excessive television watching and fat-laden fast food menus are working together to make U.S. children fatter and fatter, two separate reports said this week.
The reports by non-profit groups, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), were issued a day after the American Psychological Association published a new policy recommending legal limits on advertising aimed at children.
The Kaiser Foundation, which studies family health issues, said research had not pinpointed precisely why television watching is so strongly linked with childhood obesity. But experts told a briefing that evidence pointed to advertising for junk and snack foods.
The CSPI, which publishes frequent reports on the fat and calorie content of popular foods, criticized kid's menus at restaurants that feature deep-fried foods, sugary drinks and calorie-laden desserts.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that since 1980 the proportion of overweight children ages 6 to 11 has more than doubled. It estimates that 10 percent of young children aged 2 to 5 and 15 percent of 6- to 9-year-olds are overweight.
The Kaiser Foundation studied whether time spent watching television and movies and playing computer and video games really contributes to this, as many believe. Its experts reviewed more than 40 studies on the subject.
The studies did not compellingly support the so-called "couch potato" theory - that kids who watch TV are not out exercising and playing. The experts say that one of the possibilities is food advertising, which appears to work especially well on young children.
Dr. Tom Robinson, a pediatrician at Stanford University in California who studies obesity, tried reducing the amount of TV kids watched to see if they gained less weight. They did. Two of his studies on a total of 1,100 children aged 8 to 10, showed that when TV watching was reduced, the children - who were growing - gained less weight.
Turning off the television slowed down obesity more than anything else, including exercise programs and diets.
The Kaiser experts said the typical child sees about 40,000 ads a year on TV, most for candy, cereal, soda and fast food.
And fast food, said the CSPI, is certainly making children fatter. They found that most meals have 600 or 1,000 calories - that's half a days worth or more for kids aged 4 to 8. Any child who eats a cheeseburger, fries, Coke and sundae will be sitting down to an amazing 1,700 calories and three and a half days' worth of bad fat.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.