New Study Links Commercials in TV (Not Watching TV) to Obesity

by redpillpapa · 4 comments

in Advertising+Media,Character,Health+Wellness,Nutrition+Food,Toys+Products

This week in Red Pillville, obesity seems to be the featured topic. So when I was perusing articles that I had bookmarked for later reading on Instapaper, the piece entitled, “Commercials Are the Culprit in TV-Obesity Link,” by Tara Parker-Pope on the New York Times Blog caught my attention (you can read the article by clicking here).

To break it down quickly, researchers in California concluded, after surveying viewing habits of 2,000 children through their caregivers at two points, in 1997 and 2002, that the “risk for being overweight increased the more television commercials a child was exposed to. There was no association with television viewing and obesity for those who watched videos or commercial-free programming.”

I think it’s wonderful that researchers are digging below the surface to find clearer distinctions into what ingredients go into baking a child into a couch potato. Though I haven’t read the actual report, the answer as reported is, frankly, a bit liberating. You see Red Pill Mama and myself are not completely anti-television/screen-time and our kids have spent their fare share of time watching what we have determined to be wholesome, enriching content.  Of course they’ve watched a bit of content that’s purely entertaining too — and my daughter has gotten plenty of the commercial loaded crap as well.  Our experiences with our kids and media have helped light the fires in our bellies that led us to start this blog!  We believe that there is plenty of programming that can educate, entertain and inspire our kids, when viewed in moderation (though we don’t feel the same about advertising). And research like this may help Red Pill Parents feel guilt-free about plunking their kids down to watch some of the good stuff.

Let’s turn our attention to the insidious advertising that accompanies much of the junk commercial programming found on television today. We realize that exposure to these commercials can create little “can I buy this” pests that follow us around the grocery store, toy store, drug store, etc. asking to buy everything that they recognize from commercials and licensed characters (this is where the TV commercial-obesity connection comes to life).  On top of being a highly unpleasant experience (battle perhaps is a better word) for us Red Pill Parents, this clearly tells us that the tactics employed by advertisers (highly sophisticated psychological manipulation, whose end result  creates a desire for products that kids can’t substantiate past “I just want it”) are best avoided because most of the food products they are pitching are highly processed, loaded with sugar, fat, salt and unhealthy, and the toys are usually cheap, plastic non-educational, and affiliated with licensed characters — junk.

In addition to turning off childrens commercial television, it is also important to educate our kids and help them understand why they want to buy what they see advertised.  In my experience, getting them to realize this can be turned into a game that our children can actually play at the store. It’s a better solution than just saying “No,” “Maybe,” or “Later” to our little naggers, which leads to melt-downs, tantrums and unhappiness for both parent and child. One of my favorite things to do with my daughter, when confronted with a box or package in hand at a store and the question, “Daddy, can I buy this?” is to ask, “Why do you want this?” If it is a product that we have not had in our home before, the answer is predictably, “I want it because I saw it on TV.” At this point, I often will point out that it’s funny that she wants something that she has never tasted or played with. Her begging may not stop here, but my words will give her pause. I will then tell her that commercials are made to to sell her things that are not good for her, and that if she eats these products she will likely get a cavity (cavity has a lot of leverage with her because she has always been terrified of going to the dentist to get a filling) and she’ll say in a very worried tone with a grimace on her face, “You mean if I buy this I’ll get a cavity?” to which I reply, “Yes.” If it’s a toy she wants, I will explain that it’s a junky toy and buying junky toys is like buying junky food. You don’t get a cavity, but they are not good for you. Sound effective? It is!

Now the game becomes that when we go shopping, I can ask her if she recognizes any junky things in the store that she may have seen in a commercial (though this is much less common now, as commercial TV is not something she sees much anymore).  She will proudly say to me as she points items out, “Daddy, this is a junky food/toy that I saw on TV.” Mission accomplished. She is now an ally!

As my girl gets older (she is now five and a half) I will continue to provide more information and distinctions that she is able to comprehend, so that the advertisers’ mechanisms get short circuited in her mind and that she is able to have a healthy understanding of the role of advertising in the society in which she is growing up.  While obesity may be the biggest health risk associated with watching commercial television, there are plenty of other ill side-effects that these commercials produce (negative body image, social insecurity, etc.), and I’d rather see us Red Pill Parents negate their effect so that we can focus on raising happy, healthy, self-secure and well-adjusted children.

We’d like to know what you think. Please take our poll (over there on the right column of this page >>>). If you do limit your child’s exposure to advertising, we’d love to hear how you do it in our comments section below.

- Red Pill Papa

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Mama Obama Scolds The Grocery Manufacturers of America, Will They Shape Up?
March 17, 2010 at 5:20 pm

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff Jun February 24, 2010 at 12:54 am

Congrats on your great new Endeavor!

Christine March 21, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Hey, Congrats on the site, I’ll be following along.
Just wanted to comment about the commercials, and how I wish we could be like Australia which does not allow advertising to children under 7, I think it’s 7. We have full on industies that their sole job is to target our kids, and through them our wallets. That more than anything is the problem.
Lastly, a couple of years back my oldest child, now 8 years old, hounded me for some junk item she had seen on TV, she recieved a gift card for her birthday and happily went out to the store and bought the item, stars in her eyes and all. Once it was home, and she realized how junky it was she was angry at the illusion that had been handed her. She now always looks scornfully at commercials, (as my instruction has helped), through her experience of her lost money and the junk she recieved and her dashed hopes of a wonderful toy. She even tells her little sister, who’s eyes light up at all the magical toys on TV, “But Sarah, that commercial is just making it up, that toy isn’t as good as they’re making it look.” And although my newly 5 year old gets that disapointed look on her face, I feel totally vindicated.
And so you know, our screen time is only on Sat and Sun mornings, for about 2 hours, and sometimes a movie on Friday night.

Red Pill Mama April 16, 2010 at 2:26 pm

What a great lesson for your daughter! Red Pill Papa’s been through that, too, and his daughter learned that same fantastic lesson. Thanks for mentioning Australia’s commercial regulations: I really need to do a post about how other countries deal with and regulate advertising to kids!

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