The TV Diet

When you think of things that go together, what comes to mind? Fred and Wilma, Lucy and Ethel, cookies and milk, peanut butter and jelly. What about watching TV and snacking? Are we right? When you sit down at night to watch your favorite program, how many of you are having a snack? Do you go for something crunchy – popcorn, chips, pretzels, nachos- or something sweet – ice cream, candy, cookies? We are so conditioned to eat when we are watching the tube that it would feel unnatural or awkward to not be eating while watching Grey’s Anatomy.

So, now you’ve settled into the couch with your snack and have the TV remote firmly in hand. It’s 8 o’clock and your show has started. You’re enjoying the program and it goes to commercial. Chances are, that ad is for some kind of food. Fast food, beer, sugary breakfast treats. Does that food ad influence your snacking? If it does, you’ll end up with huge amounts of fat and sugar entering your body.

A recent study analyzed what would happen if a person were to eat 2,000 calories of foods that were advertised on TV. They found that such a diet would include 25 times the recommended servings of sugar and 20 times the recommended servings of fat in a daily diet. And honestly, it’s much more than that, as we know that the government’s idea of a recommended number of servings for sugar and fat is waaaaay too high.

Now, we are grown adults who know good food from bad and who should be less swayed by an advertisement. But sometimes, willpower is low (like when we’re tired or stressed), and that commercial for “natural” ice cream sends you straight to the freezer to dig out that pint of Ben & Jerry’s chocolate chip cookie dough goodness. But what about the influence of TV commercials on kids?

If you have ever spent a Saturday morning watching children’s programming, the commercials that run are quite astounding. Kids are being bombarded left and right by ads for soda, fruit “juice” drinks, fast food, sugary cereal, fun-looking yogurt, and Lunchables. Where’s the cute advertising for fruits and vegetables, wild Alaskan salmon, and Greek yogurt? And don’t forget, kids are so naive and gullible. If they see it, they’ll believe it. So they then beg their parents for the stuff they’ve just seen. “Please mommy, let’s go to McDonald’s for a chicken McNugget Happy meal.” or “I want Cheeze-its and Go-Gurt for a snack!” It’s no wonder that one out of four children are either overweight or obese – a statistic that’s only going to continue to rise. Coupled with that is the fact that children are developing medical conditions once only thought to affect adults. High blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and arthritis are being diagnosed in children as young as age 3.

The take home message is this – what we see does influence what and how much we eat. We can continue to watch TV and make better snack choices. We can record our programs and play them back, skipping over those commercials. But most importantly, we have to protect our children from the deceptive and destructive advertisement that they see. Kids watch way too much TV and absorb everything they see. It’s sad when they can recite a commercial, word for word, but can’t remember their math facts. As moms, it is our responsibility to educate our kids about nutritious and non-nutritious foods, as well as to provide real, whole food, so that they can grow up and not out.

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