A Nanny State Pediatrician:

This is an actual quote from a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics from the HHS/FTC Joint Workshop on obesity and marketing a few weeks back (p. 142 of the Hearing transcript) expressing the Academy's support for a ban on advertising directed at children as a tool to fight children's obesity:

Contrast that with the amount of time that children spend seeing--let's bandy about the number--40,000 or so commercial messages each year, the 20 percent of two to seven-year-olds that have televisions in their bedrooms, the 68 percent of eight to 18-year-olds that have television in their bedrooms, it hardly seems like a level playing field for parents and pediatricians.

With respect to the difficulty of pediatricians influencing children's diets, I grant his point. But with respect to parents, give me a break--68% percent of parents allow their kids to have televisions in their bedrooms and then complain that they are defenseless against advertising? If this is a concern, I can think of one obvious defense for parents to "level the playing field"--how about removing the tv from the bedroom? I'll bet that would actually make a difference in children's obesity rates.

This leaves aside the fabulism of the 40,000 figure--a figure that I have debunked elsewhere.


I should have been more clear in my original post that my comments (this time) were not addressed at the question of the merits of restricting food (or other advertising) directed at children. It was just meant to focus on the implication that somehow the presence of the televisions in kids' rooms came about exogenously and that parents are truly powerless to prevent the exposure of their kids to television.

a couple of points:

1) Doctors, especially pediatricians, seem quite prone toward advocating paternalistic policies. I attribute this to the fact that they are trained in science/medicine, not policy, and so their instinct (much like that of many lay people) is that if X is good, then we should enact laws requiring X.

2) That said, and while I generally oppose paternalism, I wouldn't really be upset if the advertising aimed at children was restricted. The reality is, kids watch tv, and even parents with the best intentions end up allowing their kids to watch many hours of tv. Then your kids see an ad for McDonalds, decide their life is over if they don't get a happy meal, and then if the parent says "no," she's the bad guy. I'm aware of the arguments against this sort of regulation, but if it happened, I could certainly live with it...
8.12.2005 11:17am
a dad (mail):
On the TV-obesity-food angle, my pet peeve is the growth of TVs in every public place, including restaurants. We don't watch TV much, and not while eating dinner at home, but we took the kids out for pizza the other day and found it hard to keep their eyes off the screen. So we won't eat there again. But our list of places-with-TVs is growing, sadly.

I don't want anyone to pass a law on this, but I do wish more parents would join me in pushing the market AGAINST this. But I suppose I'll lose, and retreat further into being out-of-step with most of American society.
8.12.2005 11:40am
AppSocRes (mail):
The 40,000 obviously has mystical significance. If we assume each commercial is one minute long, then our children are being exposed to 666.666 ... hours of food advertising a year. Clearly the Antichrist is behind this somehow.
8.12.2005 12:07pm
I take this to be the point. Parents can't possibly hope to positively influence their childrens' eating desires unless they wean the little tykes off the electronic teat.
8.12.2005 12:10pm
wonkie (mail):
I was lucky and grew up in a household that had no television. No, my folks were not religious or political nuts. They just never felt the need for one.
I can't stand TV. I can't stand being in earshot of one, let along watch it. I cannot understand why people allow the damn thing to run their lives, waste their time, instruct their children, and substitute for having a life. Needless to say, my family doesn't watch TV. Ever. Having no TV is an unmitigated blessing when it comes to raising children.
Anyway the point: cigarettes have been marginalized in this culture to low status people or rebellious teens. Yes, I realize the tax gravytrain keeps on going, but I'm thinking about the use of cigaretes by people, not the power of the tobacco lobby. Smokers go outside and they lurk in corners segregated from non-smokers. There has been a dramatic cultural shift from the days of glamour to the days of "That stinks, go outside!"
We need to to the same thing to TV watching. We need to change the culture so that people regard television viewing by children as a indicator of lazy or ineffectual parenting, and TV viewing by adults as the activity done when one has absolutely nothing else to do, a de facto admission of having no life. TV needs to be marginalized. It should be viewed as a slightly shameful behavior, and admission of emptyheadedness or a substitution for family life.
It is possible to change normative behaviors. Anyone want to start a campaign against TV watching? I am, by the way, completely serious. The problem, of course is that the medium for spreading the anti-TV message would have to be TV. Wouldn't it be fun if viewers were smote in the eyeballs with anti-TV ads?
8.12.2005 12:35pm
gr (www):
"I take this to be the point. Parents can't possibly hope to positively influence their childrens' eating desires unless they wean the little tykes off the electronic teat."

Why not just pasteurize the milk from the teat?
8.12.2005 3:08pm
David M. Nieporent (www):

That said, and while I generally oppose paternalism, I wouldn't really be upset if the advertising aimed at children was restricted.

Yes, but if you've followed the tobacco advertising debate, you'll find that the phrase "aimed at children" is a remarkably fluid concept when placed into the hands of activists. Yes, a commercial aired during Barney or Sesame Street is obviously "aimed at children." But a print advertisement in Sports Illustrated? Magically, yes, on the theory that some kids read SI.
8.12.2005 3:15pm
Tom H.:
Given the choice of things to watch on tv the other day, my 10 year-old son chose to watch a documentary on the Revolutionary War on one of the Discovery channels (D-Times I think). This was only after he had come home from baseball practice and completed his homework.

As a parent, we have the right to be paternalistic about how we raise our children. TV in its own right is no more evil than a gun. How you allow it to be used is where the trouble comes from.
8.12.2005 3:34pm
Tylerh (mail):
A Dad:

There is a technical solution for the TVs-everywhere probelem: < a rel="nofollow" href="">TV-B-GONE It's a universal remote that will turn off any TV controllable by remote.

I hear it's great fun in aiports, too.
8.12.2005 7:49pm