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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Turn off the Light

Do you recycle? Do you reuse? Would you turn the light off in a room if you weren’t in it? Or are you the kind of person that finds life too short for these trifling details? If you are the latter, I honestly think you are wrong. Our abuse of the environment has reached a very important moment in its history and there is no easy way to say this, it may already be too late.

We are experiencing the beginning of environmental issues scientists have been warning us of for decades. While most of us in our cosy positions in the ‘Western’ world can deny it, there are people in the world who cannot. A quality inherent of humanity is our inability to act on problems before they escalate. We have been doing this in regards to climate change for decades now.

According to around 43% of the rural population of Kenya lack access to water.[i] Water. The most basic human necessity and these people do not have access to it. Kenya’s terrible drought is not a coincidence. It’s linked to the environment, and climate change.

There will come a day the world leaders will be hiding out on higher ground while those they are sworn to protect are washed away by rising sea levels. If you’d like some advice, become someone important. That’ll be the only way you’ll have a chance of surviving the rising sea levels and weather anomalies if this inaction continues.

If you’re thinking, ‘our illustrious leaders will never allow that to happen’, you can think again. If we’re allowing people to starve to death in Kenya because global governments will not commit to CO2 reduction levels, then when the time comes and it’s you that’s in peril, they will turn a blind eye.

While I understand this is a pessimistic view of the future, it’s also a logical one. If life has proven anything to humanity over and over, it can be horribly unfair. We are still at the stage where we can look away because our own families are not suffering, but if our leaders don’t agree to changes that are more permanent soon, we may be the ones starving to death.

I myself am not a perfect advocate of the environment, and the neoliberal market has made it difficult for the individual to make a difference. However, we cannot entirely blame the individual. Time and time again, UN summits have proposed frameworks for countries and when they fail to meet their targets, nothing is done. They just meet once again and to draft new frameworks. We are in a constant cycle of frameworks and failure.[ii]

Some hard choices will have to be made by global governments and while we may end up suffering small indignities in the short term, our long-term safety must be considered. Those in authority and positions of power cannot maintain acting like petulant children. Real change is needed, comfortable people need to be inconvenienced, we cannot continue forging this path or it will bury us all.

Ultimately if you are concerned about humanitarian issues and want to help outside of charity work and donations, consider your environmental impact. Those articles that tell you “10 easy steps to reduce your carbon footprint,” honestly, read what they are saying. Even a simple thing like having 1 – 2 meat-free days a week would have a huge impact if we all did it. Or turning off that light when you leave the room, because if you don’t, someday you might not have a room left of one’s own to do so.

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