By Remy Marin

It’s time for a commercial break – to look at commercials and their effect on our health. With students typically watching three or more hours of television on an average school day, this is a huge amount of time for kids to be influenced by what they are viewing.

Man in swimming pool with television set

These commercials certainly have their influence.  Think about this: How many times have you been watching television when an ad for a sugar-filled fruit snack or a high-fat chip comes on? How many times have you suddenly become hungry and been prompted to grab something you’ve seen on TV and add it to your mother’s shopping list?  And when you get the after-school munchies, will you be drawn towards the apple in the fruit bowl or the chocolate bar that made everyone dance around in yesterday’s commercial?

A new bill called the H.R.4053, or the Healthy Kids Act, is posed to break this pattern. Introduced by representatives Jim Morgan and Bill Pascrell, according to the Wall Street Journal, the proposal would allow the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Federal Communications Commission to monitor commercials “which do not contribute to a healthful diet for children and adolescents” by addressing the vulnerability of adolescents.  It would also establish an Office of Childhood Overweight and Obesity Prevention and Treatment within the Department of Health and Human Services.

Though not yet passed, the Healthy Kids Act has caused quite a stir in the snack food and television industries.  Since television commercials are effective methods of advertising, the act could potentially stunt these industries’ profits by restricting ads.

Personally, I have neutral feelings about this bill.  For one, I can’t help but feel it’s a little superfluous.  With the creation of TiVO, adolescents often zip right through commercials, thus greatly reducing their exposure to the messages.  Why change commercials if kids barely see them anyway?

On the other hand, it’s evident that the rise in obesity needs more attention since current efforts have not helped enough. With or without TiVO, I still believe the Healthy Kids Act could have a positive impact on adolescents as commercials have an influential place in the media. According to Morgan’s speech introducing Congress to his proposal, “In 2008, we spent an excess of $100,000,000,000 on health care associated with overweight and obese Americans.”  If successful, the Healthy Kids Act would drastically decrease this amount and thus save the country a lot of money.

The Healthy Kids Act could be a great step for this country, and we’ll hopefully see improvement soon. In the meantime, keep yourself healthy by eating right, exercising well, and avoiding the influence of commercials. And lest you think that commercials aren’t influencing you, here’s some more final food for thought:

Researchers at University of California at Davis studied the commercials that aired on networks watched by children, young adults, and the general population. The results showed that:

*  About 20 percent of advertisements on mainstream channels, including ABC, CBS, and FOX, were food-related, with 5.2 food-related commercials per hour.

*  Children’s networks, including Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and the Kids’ WB, had 76 percent more food commercials than all others, with about 7.7 per hour, or 1 food-related commercial every eight minutes.

*  The prevalence of food-related commercials on networks for older teens, such as MTV and BET, was fairly equal to that of children’s networks.

*  80 percent of food-related commercials on MTV were for fast food, sugary beverages, or junk food, while advertisements for fruits, vegetables, and juices made up 1.7 percent.

*  For every 63 food advertisements, there was only one nutrition-related public service announcement.

Yikes. It does sound like the Healthy Kids Act is a step in the right direction.

Remy Marin is a Boston-area high school senior who is interested in humanities and foreign languages.

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