Kaiser Creates Couch-Potato Clearinghouse

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Couch potatoes and the people who covet their eyes get fried in a new report on the media and childhood obesity from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The report, to be released next week, suggests that it isn’t so much that TV is seducing them away from exercise as it is seducing them into overeating.

The report contains no new data, but instead tries to bring together existing studies and suggested policy options related to the issue. Kaiser says it is the first time such a report has been produced.

While Kaiser says it is not taking sides on the issue, the foundation draws some conclusions from the material.

The report is said to suggest that kids who spend more time in front of the TV tend to be more obese.

It also suggests that TV watching does not displace more vigorous activities like playing sports, but rather replaces time spent on equally sedentary pastimes like reading or talking on the phone.

That suggests to Kaiser that other factors may be as important as the sedentary nature of the viewing experience.

One such factor, it suggests, is the role of advertising, particularly for "unhealthy foods," in promoting obesity.
Or, as the foundation poses the question: "From SpongeBob SquarePants crackers to Scooby-Doo cereal, are media characters selling our kids down a river of fat?"

The report does suggest that TV can play a positive role through more public education campaigns.

In concert with the report’s release in Washington Feb. 24, the foundation will host a panel discussion. The panel will feature academics and at least one industry representative, Nickelodeon Senior VP Marva Smalls, who will be on hand to defend the network’s SpongeBob.