Childhood Obesity – Who’s To Blame: Parents or The Media?

You do as your parents say.
You buy what advertisers tell you to.
But, when it comes to obesity among children, who is more influential?

McDonald’s Advertisement for a Happy Meal

I remember as a child seeing McDonald’s ads and begging my parents for a Happy Meal. The kids on the ad seemed so happy, so why wouldn’t my parents want that for me? Now I realise it was because they were looking out for my health by teaching me healthy food habits from a young age.

Currently in Australia, one in four children are overweight or obese. Additionally, only 68.1% of children consume the recommended daily serve of fruit.

And…the most alarming part…children are eating a mere 1.9 servings (out of the recommended 5) of vegetables per day.


But, what’s the problem with being obese?

1. Psychological Factors

  • Depressive symptoms
  • Low self-esteem
  • Social discrimination
  • Poor social functioning
  • Increased risk of eating disorders

In fact, a study delved into individual health related quality of life (HRQoL) for obese children. HRQol was defined as a measure that assess important aspects of health that are not detected by traditional physiological or clinical measurements. It found that compared with healthy children, obese children reported significantly lower health-related quality of life. It was also found severely obese children have a similar quality of life as those diagnosed with cancer. A similar study on quality of life was undertaken a few years later. Of normal weight children aged eight years and over, 95% proved to have a high quality of life score. However, in obese children above the age of eight, a mere 4.5% were scored as having a high quality of life.

2. Physical Factors

  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Sleep apnoea
  • Body pain


So, what does the media have to do with this?

44% of advertisements aimed at children promote unhealthy food options – mainly foods high in salt, sugar and fat. Additionally, the increase of time spent watching television has aligned with the increase of obesity. There is also significant associations between television viewing and diet quality and blood cholesterol levels.

Summary of Australian Food Advertising

The Obesity Policy Coalition collated evidence proving that food advertising influences children’s food preferences, what they ask for, and what they then consume. They also concluded that restricting unhealthy food advertising would be the most powerful and cost-effective population-based intervention to help curb this epidemic.

The World Health Organisation published a set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children. It aims to call for global action to reduce child food marketing on foods high in saturated fat, trans-fatty acids, sugar and salt.


So then, what’s the real question here?

Who allows these children to spend so much time in front of a screen to the point they are significantly influenced?

Who allows these children to eat what they ask for due to unhealthy food advertisements?

That’s right, the parents.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies concluded that 30 percent of a child’s waking time is spent in front of the television.


But, it is still the media’s fault, because they started it, right?

Well, research has shown that parental influence is deemed to have the strongest impact as they are the food providers, role models and educators. Parents with a high level of dietary awareness are more inclined to make healthy food choices for their children.

“Good dietary habits start at home. If parents are eating poorly,
chances are their kids are too.”

Susan Habey – Chronic Disease Scientist

A study revealed that there is a 50 percent chance that a child will become obese if one of their parents is. If both of the parents are obese, this risk increases to 80 percent!


The verdict?


So, let’s stop blaming the media for simply doing their job of advertising.

Instead, let’s start promoting healthy eating to our children as we are the role models.

Let’s stop allowing our children to sit in front of screens for hours on end so they are regularly exposed to these advertisements.

After all;

Monkey see, monkey do.


What can parents do to help this epidemic?

  1. Reduce the amount of time your child spends in front of screens.
  2. Promote and make eating healthy foods exciting.
  3. Follow this simple chart when packing your child’s lunchbox.
Pick and Mix Initiative

We all need to get on board if we want to decrease child obesity rates, and what better time than now!

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