Kids are exposed to almost 8,000 food advertisements each year. That means that they are seeing about 21 ads for food every day. Most of these ads are for junk foods or those that are high in sugar, salt and fat and low in the nutrients that promote healthy growth and development. Studies show that the more time a child spends in front of the TV, the more likely that they will be overweight or obese. With 1 out of every 3 children in the U.S. being overweight or obese, reducing TV and screen time can help to improve the health of our children. What can be done to help our children with screen time?
There are two recent national initiatives that address food marketing to kids:
- The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has published the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children. The information in this report includes proposed nutrition and marketing recommendations regarding food advertisements targeted to children. Food industry organizations would not be required to follow the recommendations but would have to volunteer to do so.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics published a Policy Statement on Children, Adolescents, Obesity, and the Media in the July issue of the journal, Pediatrics. This articleprovides some advice to both parents and pediatricians alike. Specifically, parents can be prepared to answer the following two questions about media use when taking their child to the doctor for a well-child visit:
- How much time does your child spend in front of a screen each day?
- Is there a TV set or internet connection in your child’s bedroom?
The answers to these two questions are important to your child’s or adolescent’s health in a variety of ways. The more time a child spends in front of a screen, the less time they are: being physically active, getting a good night’s sleep, eating healthy meals with their family and daydreaming or being creative. And having access to a TV set or other media screens (computer, laptop, cell phone, videogame, etc.) in a child’s bedroom makes it even harder for them to maintain a healthy weight.
The initiatives above are what the government, the food industry and doctors may take on to help combat the overwhelming amount of food marketing targeted to children and adolescents. While these programs are important, I believe that the real power to make a difference with children lies with their parents. I believe that the words and actions of parents have far more influence on children than TV ads. The secret is for parents to realize that power and use it, with love, to provide their children with a healthier environment at home.
Here are tips on what families can do:
- Involve children in shopping and cooking and use the Guiding Stars FoodFinder to make nutritious choices.
- Enjoy meals and snacks together at the kitchen table.
- Turn the TV off during meal and snack times.
- Be active together – take a walk, ride a bike, play catch or kickball.
- Use Dance Revolution or Nintendo’s Wii Sports.
- Read aloud to children.
- Go to the library.
- Watch TV together and discuss food ads and compare those to healthy food and beverage choices.
- Institute a screen-free time before bedtime.
- Keep all screens out of a child’s bedroom.
- Limit the amount of non-educational screen time to 2 hours per day for children over the age of 2.
- No TV or screen time for children under the age of 2.
About our Nutrition Expert
Lori Kaley MS, RD, LD, MSB is a member of the Guiding Stars Scientific Advisory Panel. Lori has 30 years of combined experience working in healthcare and public health creating policies and environments to help families and children have access to healthy foods and beverages. She is currently Policy Associate at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service.
Lori’s greatest achievement and joy has been in raising her three daughters to be healthy and productive young adults, each with their own particular love of food, cooking and being physically active. Lori’s passion for nutritional community outreach has been a cornerstone of the Guiding Stars Scientific Advisory Panel. Lori regularly contributes to the Guiding Stars blog.