Technology can allow for advancement, but it can also be harmful to kids


There is an age-old saying that says, “A child is raised by the village”.

In this age of nuclear families, high walls and security fences, one would assume that this saying has become irrelevant. In my opinion, that would be extremely incorrect, because as we lock ourselves in our houses, the children continue to be raised by a much bigger village, a global village whose inhabitants have neither faces nor names. This is of course through television, computers and all types of media and advertising.

Technology allows for advancement, but without oversight, it can have harmful effects. This is also true for media and obesity in children.

Read: Are your worried about your children’s weight? Tell us about it

The American Psychological Association (APA) states that with the introduction of television programming that is geared for children, arose the advent of commercial advertising directed towards children. This form of child-centered adverting grew exponentially with the growth and the widespread use of the internet.

A fact when combined with the growing trend of children privately accessing TV viewing and internet usage from their bedrooms, propelled the growth of youth directed advertising to an estimated $12 billion spend a year, according to the APA.

There are clearly many issues with this trend, but one that is of concern is that children cannot distinguish advertising from programming.

In two experiments conducted on 401 children aged six, eight, 10 and 12 from the United Kingdom and Indonesia, children were shown printed versions of webpages that contained commercial advertising. The six-year-olds could only recognise a quarter of the adverts, the eight-year olds half, and the 10 and 12 year olds three quarters, and that was as a result of the presence of pricing on the adverts.

How can this trend have an impact on overweight and obesity in children?

Fat boy with overweight checking out his weight is
Media has an effect and plays a role in obesity in children. Picture: Supplied/ istock

Without going into detail, TV viewing behaviour is associated with inactivity, snacking on sweets and soft drinks and exposure to the influence of advertisements. The APA states that 50% of the adverts on children’s programmes are food advertisements, and these are mainly unhealthy food (34% candy and snacks, 28% cereal, 10% fast food, 4% dairy, 1% fruit juices and 0% fruit or vegetables).

Read: Want to avoid having obese children? Teach them healthy habits early

The media appears to have the full attention of the children, unsupervised by parents, as such making it possible to influence food choices from an early age, ingraining habits and food choices from childhood well into adulthood.

If we are to address the overweight and obesity rates in our country, it is imperative that we also look at minimising detrimental habits even before they develop in our children.

Tips for parents for a healthy media experience

Minimise screen time

You will be helping your child not just reduce the risk of weight issues, but also the risk of other behaviours such as, aggression, consumerism, gender/racial stereotyping, and other risky behaviours).

Vet your children’s shows

You vet everything else, vet also their shows. Watch movies, and their shows before they do.

No time to do so? Check what other parents are saying online regarding that show. You will know first-hand if you are comfortable with the story-lines, scenes and value system depicted in the show.

You will be able to identify if the show reinforces or goes against your home’s teaching.

Limit advertisements

Pre-record/download the shows they want to watch.

Rent videos/DVDs.

Mute ads, have conversation during ads, get in an activity, eg bathroom break. It is almost impossible to remove all exposure to commercials, but limiting exposure will assist to reduce the influence commercial adverts have on our children now, and on their adult behaviour later on.

Create a good relationship with ads

Adverts exist, and they will continue to exist into the foreseeable future

Explain the purpose of the ads to your kids

Discuss ads, find out what their understanding is, and what the ads mean to them

Your kids will learn to identify and know the difference between an ad and their favourite show

Understanding removes fear, anxiety

Understanding promotes educated and informed choices

Seems like a lot of work? Perhaps. But it’s either we parent or the global village does. It’s a choice we make daily. What will it be today?

• Dr Bongi is a medical director at Wellness360, specialising in weight management, lifestyle modification and medical aesthetics. She is a medical doctor, a lifestyle coach, and an expert in weight management and aesthetics. She is married and is the mother of three girls.

Follow her on Twitter: @bongi_dr

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