24 April 1998

Tubby Telly Kids

With so much talk lately about the evils of TV youth culture - particularly its obsession with Barbie-doll bodies and skeletal physiques - it's heartening to learn that not all of America's youngsters are routinely gagging themselves in pursuit of fashionable emaciation. As reported in the March issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, a quarter of all US children who watch more than four hours of television a day are considerably tubbier than their non-couch-potatoed classmates.

Not that anybody's surprised. Still, as if to confirm the media's knack for eking controversy out of common knowledge, the findings are already being touted as a cause for mass hysteria. What was previously taken for granted is now alarmingly official: sitting around watching TV makes you fat!

"The problem stems from the fact that watching television is a sedentary activity, but it's much more than that," says Ross Anderson of John Hopkins Bayview Medical Centre, lead researcher on the project. "Children are watching TV, many times eating high calorie, high fat snack foods, and watching commercials for fast food, all of which may encourage more eating."

But it gets worse. Based on data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the findings suggest that children living in neighbourhoods perceived to be unsafe are more likely to be plonked in front of the TV just to be kept indoors. Rates of television watching are particularly high among African-American and Mexican-American children, says the report, with parents citing safety concerns as a reason to let kids indulge. And so the vicious circle continues: fattening themselves up like Thanksgiving turkeys, the tubby telly-kids make easy pickings for urban predators.