Mass media linked to childhood obesity by European task force study

A task force from the European Academy of Pediatrics and the European Childhood Obesity Group has found evidence of a strong link between obesity levels across European countries and childhood media exposure. The findings indicate that parents and society need a better understanding of the influence of social media on dietary habits. In addition, health policies in Europe must take account of the range of mass media influences that promote the development of childhood obesity, according to the experts.

“Parents should limit TV viewing and the use of computers and similar devices to no more than 1.5 hours a day and only if the child is older than 4 years of age. Moreover, pediatricians should inform parents about the general risk that mass media use poses to their children’s cognitive and physical development,” says senior author Dr. Adamos Hadjipanayis of the European Academy of Pediatrics.

Harmful advertising through internet and smartphones

Higher interactivity in internet food marketing means it is more effective with regard to promoting food brand awareness and encouraging the purchase of branded products, according to the review.

The number of sites using advergames, which integrate advertising and video games, is growing, the experts note. Some are sponsored by companies and include advertisements, and some are created with the sole purpose of promoting the company or its product.

The free distribution of these games is said to possibly be a powerful marketing tool. The experts cite a study by Folkvord et al. that assessed the effectiveness of advergames in promoting the consumption of advertised food and confirmed that advergaming is effective in promoting food intake.

It is more difficult for children to recognize advertisements on the internet compared to TV, as web advertisements are not grouped together and shown between programs as they are on TV, the experts add. They believe that in the future, it will be even more difficult to control web advertising than traditional TV advertising, as the former are cheaper for the food industry to create and harder to control through national policies and legislation.

Media as a tool to promote health

The possibilities of using new media to positively promote health have also been studied, and these have included how smartphones can be used to promote healthy nutrition, the experts note. However, most of the suggestions for internet programs and smartphone applications have focused on treating obesity and other chronic disease, they add.

The experts point out that the reason for this is that these devices may overcome traditional barriers to weight loss treatment, as they are accessible 24 hours a day, are affordable and offer anonymity for those who may wish to avoid publicly seeking treatment due to embarrassment or other reasons.

One recent example that supports the experts’ observation of new media being used to positively promote health is the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization’s use of an app to attempt to boost vegetable intake in Australia.

It is also noted that new media can provide a forum for social support through e-mail, bulletin boards, chat rooms, group forums and web-hosted meetings. The experts acknowledge that new media can also minimize the inconvenience associated with clinic visits, particularly time spent in waiting rooms, and has the potential to be used across a broad range of settings to optimize health outcomes for patients.

“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” is published in Acta Paediatrica.

Source: Nutrition Insight

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