One of the more current cases in this category involved the long-time popular young children’s show Sesame Street, in which the beloved Cookie Monster was changed. He was changed to eat fruits and vegetables with the occasional cookie – because always eating cookies was unhealthy, and many complained that their children were getting a bad example from this. This was an extreme case since the show was actually changed (since it was such a popular show for young kids) – where in most shows, people wouldn’t argue as much, nor would they bother to change.
A lot of studies have been done regarding the relation between obesity in children and children’s television, however mostly the studies were just making a correlation between the number of hours of television viewed and child obesity. The studies were not all paying attention to the exact programs or channels watched, just the fact that it was television. In his essay “Healthy Cartoons? A Content Analysis of Foods in Children’s Animated Television Programs,” Jeremy L. Korr talks about food in children’s television programming.
Haven’t found the relevant content?
Hire a subject expert to help you with Childhood Obesity and Cartoons
Hire verified expert
Not only does he look back and gather together a lot of the important studies done concerning Children’s television programs and the food shown or referenced, but he does his own studies of the current Children’s Cartoons and their food shown and referenced (which will be discussed later). There are some older studies of children’s programs, one of which was conducted in 1994 by Warnke and Albrecht. They analyzed many children’s network programs airing Saturday mornings broadcast during 1991 and 1992.
Of the foods mentioned or shown in these shows, “32 percent were fruits and vegetables, 14 percent were sweets” (Korr 452), and the rest were other food-types. This already helps to show that children’s programs do not show only unhealthy or even mostly unhealthy foods. However, a more recent study conducted by Poor in 2007 showed some different results. After watching 20 hours of the Disney Channel’s programming, “Poor found that 57 percent of the foods referenced within the Disney Channel programs were low in nutritional value” (Korr 452).
These two studies seem to contradict each other, however the study done by Warnke and Albrecht was done on Saturday morning programming on major networks, where children (and parents) will be more likely to be watching the programs, whereas the study done by Poor was not. So the study done by Warnke and Albrecht could almost (but not) be disregarded, since the programs will intentionally try to be healthier since there will be more attention (by parents etc. ) on Saturday morning programming.
In summary, these studies do not seem to show that children’s television programs are all showing only unhealthy food. The Saturday morning children’s programs on the major channels tend to stick more with healthier foods, but the weekday children’s programs on channels such as the Disney Channel tend to be closer to half or more of the food shown being unhealthy. Neither of these seem to quite prove or disprove that children’s programs are leading to obesity. Of course, in watching television, not only is one watching the program, but sitting through the commercials.
People tend to neglect this fact and stick to blaming the children’s television programs instead of looking towards the children’s commercials. These commercials have been proven to consist of almost all unhealthy foods (at least in the past – currently they are moving more towards healthier foods because of the overall scare of children’s obesity in our society). A semi-current study was taken by Powel in 2007 that showed “98 percent of the food commercials view by children aged 2 to 11 and 89 percent of those viewed by children aged 12 to 17 were for products high in fat, sugar, or sodium” (Korr 451).
These numbers have most likely lowered in the past few years due to all the current attempts to help our ever-growing obese society, but never the less – this is still quite important. Another relatively recent study on children’s commercials was conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2007. After studying thousands of children’s food advertisements, they found that “34 percent of the foods in those ads were for candy and snacks, 28 percent were for cereal, 10 percent were for fast food, 4 percent were for dairy products, 1 percent were for fruit juices, and none were for fruits or vegetables” (Korr 458).
Although it is not split into simply unhealthy and healthy categories, one can easily agree that well over half, maybe two-thirds of the advertisements were of unhealthy foods. This only helps strengthen that a good majority of advertisements during children’s programming are of unhealthy foods. Now that children’s programming and the advertisements during have been covered, only one category remains: Children’s Cartoons. Since it is a relatively hard subject to study, since cartoons aren’t always realistic, not much research has been done.
Korr however, watched thirty-two children’s cartoons on a total of three cable and two broadcast networks. He found that “35 percent of the foods referenced visually or verbally were sweets and salty snacks, 6 percent were breads and cereals, 18 percent were meats, 5 percent were dairy products, and 22 percent were fruits and vegetables (including fruit juice)” (Korr 458). So as far as Children’s Cartoons; surprisingly, one-fifth to one-fourth of all of the foods referenced are fruits and vegetables, and less than one-half of all of the foods referenced are unhealthy.
This differs slightly from unanimated children’s programs with more fruits and vegetables and 20-25 percent less unhealthy foods. Compared to the more closely monitored Saturday children’s programs, which consist of unanimated and animated shows, there are considerably more sweets and slightly less vegetables overall in children’s cartoons. Korr also found that children’s Cable channels accounted for most of the food references as well as “98 percent of the references to sweets, 91 percent of the references to salty snacks, and 91 percent of the references to fruits and vegetables” (Korr 459).
He also found the lowest frequency of unhealthy foods in the Saturday morning programs that were always ridiculed for sending out poor nutritional messages. This only helps prove the point that Saturday morning programs are more closely monitored seeing as they have the least reference to food, as well as the least reference to unhealthy food. So now, we could almost definitively say that warnke and Albrecht’s studies could be ignored for the purpose of this analysis. After looking at all of these different studies, one can deduct a few things.
First, children’s programs aired on cable seem to be more likely to have more foods referenced or shown, which of course leads to more unhealthy foods. Second, children’s programs aired on Saturdays seem to be more likely to have less foods referenced or shown, with more fruits and vegetables than sweets and salty foods. Third, children’s programs aired on the weekdays tend to have more sweets involved. And last, children’s advertisements all seem to show a majority of unhealthy foods.
In general, it seems that children’s advertisements are the major problem in showing unhealthy foods. As far as children’s programming, Cartoons seem to show more unhealthy foods than unanimated series, and depending on what time and network the program is aired on will make a difference on what one will see. One solution to this, stated by Korr, would be to use a DVR (digital video recorder), such as TiVo, to record the programs, and then fast-forward or skip through the commercials, thereby eliminating a good amount of the unhealthy foods shown during children’s programming.
However this does not seem quite necessary. It seems, based on these studies, that if one limits them self to Saturday programming, one will eliminate a good amount of the advertisements and the shows with unhealthy foods referenced and shown. Also watching broadcast as opposed to cable network shows appears to cut down the amount as well. As a last resort, if a child must watch television, a DVR would be a relatively good solution.