All The Kids Belong To Us: New NIH Grant Studies Childhood Obesity-Entertainment Link

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Recently, the National Institutes of Health awarded researchers at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill $212,549 to study the relationship between children’s entertainment, obesity and bullying.  File this one under, “No Kidding” if one will, but consider the underlying assumptions of the study based on comments made in the grant and by the lead researcher:

“Children’s movies are an important source of cultural messages to children about healthy and unhealthy attitudes and behaviors,” the grant said.  The project involves developing “measurement tools to understand the basic processes behind movies’ and other cultural factors’ effects on such attitudes and behaviors, particularly those related to Obesity.”

Measurement tools in addition to the ones Ad Men developed decades ago to figure out where to place their products in movies, videos and television shows in order to maximize impressions to children?  Just a suggestion, but the researchers might start there with how entertainment sends messages to children.  This has been studied for decades by communications professionals.

After that, it might be worth talking to story development sorts in Hollywood who test the product (entertainment) up the wazoo before releasing it.  They’ve figured out what pushes the right buttons, too.  And those people might be willing to tell researchers how they do it for a lot less than two hundred grand.

“Children have access to many movies and the ability to view them over and over again, contributing to significant daily exposure, more for children from minority backgrounds,” it said. “These movies provide cues to normative behavior and experiences widely shared among similar-age children nationally and even worldwide.”

Yeah, that’s kind of the point.  It’s a sales model to sell not just the entertainment, but action figures, music albums, videos and a whole lot more in the way of merchandise.  Notice that why the kiddos are actually sitting in front of entertainment rather than being outside, at the pool, practicing soccer, etc., is not mentioned.

“Our team’s preliminary work has examined movies and found top-grossing G- and PG-rated movies depict unhealthy eating and sedentary activity as the norm, while simultaneously mocking overweight characters,” the grant said.

Wait a second, we American taxpayers are funding a grant where the researchers sit and watch movies?  Anyone who spends time with small children could have told the feds that for free.

Professor Eliana Perrin, who works in the Department of Pediatrics at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Medicine, is the project leader for the grant. CNSNews.com asked Perrin how this is an effective use of taxpayer dollars.

In an emailed response, Perrin wrote: “To your question, any parent will tell you children today spend a lot of time in front of screens watching movies – and the images and messages they get from them help shape their beliefs and behavior.

“Our study focuses on two major problems facing today’s children – the alarming epidemic of childhood obesity and the prevalence of bullying.  …

“Our study shows children’s entertainment often presents sedentary activity, overeating, and eating unhealthy foods (the key factors contributing to obesity) in a positive light –and also presents bullying and teasing those who are overweight as acceptable and commonplace. Research has shown that bullying actually perpetuates obesity,” Perrin wrote.

“Right now, our health professionals and our schools are struggling to turn the tide on both of these costly trends. To the extent our efforts are being undercut by messages children receive from TV and movies, we need to understand how children take in these messages and change their beliefs as a result, if we want to reverse the trends and get the costs (and our children’s health) under control,” she wrote.

“Our study is designed to help sharpen strategies to prevent obesity and bullying by demonstrating how and to what degree children’s movies are reinforcing harmful behavior,” Perrin added

And no mention putting recess back into a school day or how to target the parents of said obese children, those who don’t eat well and the bullies with the message of how to be an adult and turn off the TV.  No mention of encouraging walking as simple exercise or learning to cook as a family activity.  Just play around with free speech and entertainment fare.  Anyone else smell first amendment infringements on the way?

About the Author

Cultural Limits
A resident of Flyover Country, Cultural Limits is a rare creature in American Conservatism - committed to not just small government, Christianity and traditional social roles, but non-profits and high arts and culture. Watching politics, observing human behavior and writing are all long-time interests. In her other life, CL writes romance novels under her nom de plume, Patricia Holden (@PatriciaHoldenAuthor on Facebook), and crochets like a mad woman (designs can be found on Facebook @BohemianFlairCrochet and on Pinterest on the Bohemian Flair Crochet board). In religion, CL is Catholic; in work, the jill of all trades when it comes to fundraising software manipulation and event planning; in play, a classically trained soprano and proud citizen of Cardinal Nation, although, during hockey season, Bleeds Blue. She lives in the Mid-Mississippi River Valley with family and two cute and charming tyrants...make that toy dogs.