Mass Media & Childhood Obesity

Are we underestimating the effect of mass media on childhood obesity? According to a recent study by The European Academy of Paediatrics (EAP) and The European Childhood Obesity Group (ECOG), it’s more serious than we thought.

A recent publication in the journal ‘Acta Pædiatrica’ discusses how we’ve been aware of the dangers since the early 1980’s and we still continue to downplay the effect on children’s health.

If you are obese as a child, you are more likely to carry this into adulthood. It’s simple psychology, you learn your eating habits in childhood, therefore changing them as an adult can be extremely difficult.

Furthermore, the study warns that the risks do not merely come from the sedentary nature of using mass media. In fact, the mere engagement with the material can create bad habits by absorbing its content:

“Childhood obesity development is not just promoted by the amount of sedentary time spent watching TV, but independently by the content of the programmes. The same is also true for the content provided by websites.”570

Social media’s influence on our lives is palpable. Are we just going to ignore the dangers, and stick our heads in the sand, or is there something we can do? It seems the academics and practitioners are singing the same tune they have for decades. It’s not the media’s fault, it’s the way we are consuming it:

“Mass media plays an important role in the current epidemic of childhood and adolescent obesity, but it could also be used responsibly to promote children’s health…It is essential to encourage families to discuss how children can develop their abilities to filter information, analyse it critically and discuss the meaning of the information provided. “575

Trust me, I’m just as frightened as you are. If the media truly has this effect on us, I think we need to be more cognitively aware of what we are consuming, each and every minute. I’m with Carl Sagan, I promise to use my critical faculties because they are the only lens I have to understand the world around me.

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Mazur, A., Caroli, M., Radziewicz-Winnicki, I., Nowicka, P., Weghuber, D., Neubauer, D., … Hadjipanayis, A. (2018). “Reviewing and addressing the link between mass media and the increase in obesity among European children: The European Academy of Paediatrics (EAP) and The European Childhood Obesity Group (ECOG) consensus statement.” Acta Paediatrica, International Journal of Paediatrics, 107(4), 568–576.

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