SIRC – Media Watch 22-10-99
Messages about diets were further confused this month with the announcement warning of a potential epidemic of obesity among Welsh children and research published in the British Medical Journal that "showed an excess of overweight and obesity in children before the age of school entry." Monitoring 1,000 children from the Bristol-Avon area the BMJ cited 20.3% of children being over-weight by the age of four and 7.6% being obese.
So what is responsible for the increase in the size of our kiddies' girth? According to one of the authors of the study, John Reilly it is not because children are actually eating more. One of the possible reasons he suggests is that children spend more recreational time indoors and are pursuing a more sedentary lifestyle increasingly dominated by television and computers. "What we suspect is happening is that pre-school children have been replacing natural active behaviour with inactive behaviour like watching TV." In light of campaigns such as the NSPCC's stranger danger warnings this really should not come as much of a shock. As Maureen Freely points out in her piece in the Guardian, times have certainly changed. "On weekends, I would go outside to play with my friends after breakfast and stay out all day. If my friends and I ran out of things to do and tried to go home, our mothers would be quick to push us out of the door again with sharp lectures about the importance of fresh air. But times have changed. Today, a "responsible" parent would not dream of letting a five year old go to the playground or even ride her bike unless there was an adult watching over her." At the time the NSPCC were repeatedly accused of scaremongering. Throughout the British media many column inches were devoted to the notion that play was indeed essential for healthy child development [see Kate Moorcock's excellent piece in LM] but now it would appear that such obsessive closeting may in fact be effecting children's physical health. Signs of heart disease, according to a leading Welsh paediatrician, have been reported in children as young as seven.
Consolation may be at hand for those kids who fear that these recent revelations may disrupt their daily intake of chips and Tomb Raider. A BBC report states that "Researchers at a Scottish university have appealed for volunteers to help with a study to find out if fatty foods like chips are healthy after all." Although the study appears to "fly in the face of most received wisdom about proper nutrition" the researchers have been awarded a grant of £700,000 – that's a lot of fries! As for the mouse potato, Reality Fusion, a company based in Santa Cruz, California last week unveiled a 'GameCam' that inserts a cyber version of the player into the computer game. Actual actions are mimicked on screen thus eliminating the need for a joystick or mouse and promising that participants in the next generation of virtual gaming may in fact break into a sweat. While this certainly may be a step in the right direction for combating puppy fat, we can only speculate on the consequences these interactive platform games and 'beat-them-ups' may have on parents' favourite household furnishings!