Media immersion absolutely affects our kids’ physical health. It contributes to obesity, eating disorders, attention deficit disorders, addictive behaviors and declining levels of fitness. There’s a direct link between hours of media consumed and calories consumed. Young girls — who see hundreds of thousands of TV and magazine ads about physical appearance — are more likely to practice risky dieting. Anorexic fashion icons and steroid-pumped sports stars can distort a sense of normal body image, which can lead to lower self-esteem and unhealthy decisions.

Why you should care:

Because one in three kids in this country is at risk for becoming obese. Because, due to obesity and inactivity, millions of kids ages 12-19 already have a pre-diabetic condition that puts them at risk for full-blown diabetes and cardiovascular problems as adults. Obesity is overtaking tobacco as the No. 1 killer in the nation. On the other end of the spectrum, super-skinny models and celebrities set unrealistic and unhealthy beauty standards, adding to the already overwhelming pressure to be thin or buff. In fact, one in five American girls will experience an eating disorder. Distorted perceptions of beauty can set the stage for misusing diet or body-building products and developing eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia.

Some facts you should know:

  • Kids 8-18 spend an average of 44.5 hours a week with media, versus 8.75 hours exercising.
  • A preschooler’s risk of obesity jumps 6% for every hour of TV watched per day, 31% if the TV is in their bedroom.
  • The average American child sees 40,000 commercials annually on broadcast TV alone.
  • 80% of the TV commercials are for fast food, candy, cereal and toys.
  • An average of one food commercial is shown every five minutes during Saturday morning cartoons.
  • The food and beverage industry spends more than $10 billion targeting children and youth though TV ads, coupons, contests, public relations promotions and packaging.
  • The No. 1 wish for girls 11-17 is to be thinner; boys 11-17 want a physical ideal that can only be achieved through dangerous steroid use.
  • Kids see more than 250,000 commercials aimed at their appearance by age 17.

Common Sense says:

  • Set limits on media time and stick to them. Studies show that the moment the TV is turned off, weight drops. Create a balanced schedule of how much media your kids can consume and when. Agree that if they do their homework and chores, they can go online, instant message (IM) their friends, see their favorite show. Sit down and draw up expectations.
  • Get your kids up and moving. Encourage younger kids to be physical and interactive while engaging in media. Dance, clap hands, anything. As for tweens and teens? Choose games that get them off the couch.
  • Watch media with your kids. Point out when someone is selling them something that isn’t good for their bodies. Point out how much effort (stylists, trainers, image editing, etc.) goes into celebrities’ looks — it’s their job, after all. Point out product tie-ins, advergames, and placements and how they’re embedded in media.
  • Model good behavior. Take a break from the screen — even when you’re really busy. Get everyone up and moving with a walk, a ride, a trip to the store or even a chore.
  • Explain the basics of diabetes, obesity, and eating disorders. See if you can find examples of behaviors in media that could lead to any of these diseases.
  • Be careful when discussing weight with your kids. They can easily feel criticized, since it’s natural for them to be hyper-sensitive about their bodies. Keep the emphasis on health rather than appearance.
  • Keep information age appropriate. With elementary school kids, explain how diet and exercise keep them healthy. Middle schoolers can absorb information about obesity, eating disorders, alcohol, drugs and cigarettes. Teens should understand that stars look the way they do thanks to Photoshop, makeup artists, strict diet and tons of exercise.
  • Limit or avoid exposing young kids to commercials. Kids 2-7 often can’t distinguish between ad messages and reality. Even age-appropriate shows tend to be surrounded by commercials designed to give kids the “gimmies” for foods that are often full of sugar and fat.
  • Get the TV, computer and video game console out of your kids’ bedroom. Studies show that kids watch more, you have less control, weight increases, and grades drop. The risk for obesity jumps 31% for each hour of TV watched.
  • Don’t let young girls immerse themselves in fashion magazines – without giving them some healthy perspective. Studies show that teens who read lots of diet articles are more likely five years later to practice extreme weight-loss measures such as smoking cigarettes, abusing laxatives, and fasting.
  • Don’t eat with the TV on. Turn it off and enjoy your family.

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