Obesity is an epidemic that is sweeping around the world. It leads to a variety of health risks and complications. Not only are adults becoming more and more obese, children and adolescents are becoming, literally, off the scales. Adolescent obesity can be examined from many angles. Among the most interesting are the media, community, and nutrition education. Studies in these areas have shed light on the causes and solutions related to adolescent obesity.
It has been hypothesized that children who watch more television are more likely to become obese teenagers and adults because of their decreased physical activity, and increased caloric intake. Other media, such as video games, movies, and the internet have also been considered to increased caloric intake (either through eating while viewing these media, or in response to advertisement) and decreased physical activity.
Food advertising represents a great deal of advertising targeted at children and adolescents, and advertisements for healthy foods and beverages are in the minority. (Escobar-Chaves & Anderson, 2008).Research studies have confirmed the correlation between television viewing and obesity. Third and fourth graders who were given a curriculum encouraging “television turnoff” had significantly smaller increases in body mass index (BMI).
In a longitudinal studies of children and adolescents, those who watched more television had a significantly greater prevalence of obesity than those who watched less television. Observational studies have found that the odds of being overweight were nearly five times greater for children aged 10 to 15 were five times greater for those who viewed five hours of television a day than for those who viewed two hours or less. (Escobar-Chaves & Anderson, 2008).
Although movies do not have overt advertising like television, they are still designed to influences the choices of adolescents who view them. Product placement is an important technique for manufacturers, and it has been proven that young people will make choices between products based upon the presence of one product in a film. (Escobar-Chaves & Anderson, 2008).
Video games are advancing in technology and complexity almost daily. On the downside, that means that product placement in video games is becoming even more overt than in movies. On the bright side, interactive video games, such as the Nintendo Wii and Dance Dance Revolution, encourage aerobic activity. Studies are being conducted now to evaluate the health benefits of these video games. (Escobar-Chaves & Anderson, 2008).
Pop-up ads and internet games are another source of product placement. Many youth access games on websites that promote brand loyalty to unhealthy foods. Just as with television and videogames, the length of time that teenagers spend at the computer is also a concern because of the lack of physical activity. (Escobar-Chaves & Anderson, 2008).
Experts theorize that individual factors influence the existence of adolescent obesity. Among those are community poverty and race/ethnicity. The data is clear that minorities are more likely to be obese than Caucasians. In a longitudinal study of over 20,000 adolescents, researchers measured race/ethnicity, gender, family poverty, and community poverty. Then, the adolescents were evaluated for obesity. (Thulitha Wickrama, Wickrama, & Bryant, 2006).
The authors of this study found that community poverty, single parenthood, and being African American, Hispanic American, or Native American are significantly positively correlated with adolescent obesity. A White adolescent is 48% more likely to be obese in a poor community than in a non-poor community. However, the divergence between community poverty and obesity was lower in the other racial/ethnic groups. (Thulitha Wickrama, Wickrama, & Bryant, 2006).