The Role of the Media in Childhood Obesity


As a child, I looked up to Walter Cronkite. He was my ideal of a news reporter. I was very upset when he retired. I was still a child and I didn’t know who I could trust. However, most of the time, what the reporters said, I believed.

That’s changed a good deal in the last decade or so. Part of it is that I also write nonfiction, though not usually news stories. I know what to look for in good reporting and that personal bias has no place in the news. Apparently, someone took that out of the curriculum, at least in a few areas.

We have a growing problem, pun not intended, in this country. Not only are we fat, our kids are fat. This excess blubber (which I also have) shortens our lives, causes serious medical conditions and is not very good for body image and ego.

So. What do we do? Some of us look for a third party to blame, and this is often covered by the media. Some “safe food” group will announce plans to sue this or that organization because they caused this problem. In real life, we call that a scapegoat. It’s a great news story, I suppose, but it does absolutely nothing to solve the problem.

At some point after this segment is aired, a TV commercial will come on touting one of the same places the reporters just bashed. What signal are they trying to send us? “We’ll take their money but you shouldn’t eat their food?” Sorry guys, that won’t work.

You have work to do, and I mean real work. Here are five suggestions about what the media can do to help us deal with our expanding waist lines:

1) Skip the law suit stories for positive parenting segments. There are a lot of ways you can run them. You can call in a nutritionist that can explain calorie needs for growing kids. A personal trainer can give tips to help wean the kids off the computer and out to play. You could even have a call in segment where parents can ask questions in a way that gives them positive answers.

2) Find school lunch programs that work. I’ve seen one in the last six months that serves good, healthy food that the kids will actually eat. Run that story again, and find others that are doing the same thing.

3) Highlight schools that encourage 100% student involvement in sports or exercise. Make sure that in these stories, it’s not just the varsity team. Show how the school is helping kids who have problems still manage to get exercise that is safe for their needs. Again, there has to be at least one out there.

4) If you’re going to complain about fast food on your news broadcast, drop all the fast food ads on your station. Sorry, even an eight year old can see that this is a conflict of interest. You might want to show segments of local fast food restaurants that are encouraging healthy eating…then having the ads would be justified.

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