According to research, more than 18% of elementary children exhibit the highest risk and prevalence of obesity (Khajeheian et al., 2018). This health issue is rapidly increasing in America due to the influence of pop culture. This culture revolves around what is popular in today’s world, and it is targeted at young people through media. The use of electronics and social media apps is prevalent in children’s lives, and they are living sedentary more now than ever. Television, video games, social media, and social norms are all affecting young people’s obesity levels and they all lie within today’s pop culture. We will discuss the extremity of these issues and what steps can be taken so that they can be changed.
Television causes adolescents to live sedentary lifestyles. Access to an unlimited catalog of movies and shows on streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and HBO is becoming a popular after school activity among youth and replacing being active. A study done by NHANES indicates that 35% of children ages 2-5 and 56% of children ages 12-15 watch television for more than 2 hours a day (Hilpert et al. 2017). Another study found that in 12- to 17-year-old adolescents, the prevalence of obesity increased by 2% for each hour of television viewed (Dietz & Gortmaker 1985). This held true when comparing prior obesity, region, season, population density, race, socioeconomic class, and a variety of other family variables. These findings suggest that the amount of time children spend watching television can cause obesity. These chances increase when paired with eating caloric dense foods while watching television.
Time spent playing video games also ties into television use. Video games are one of the top factors in a child’s environment that result in a sedentary life. Video games allow children and adolescents to communicate and spend time together after school. They consider this inactive time “hanging out” or spending quality time together. Less groups of friends are going out to play sports and are spending time away from a tv or computer screen. Now that video games are portable, the physical activity levels of students have greatly diminished. More videos games are being released, and even old games that the older students used to play are being redeveloped and modernized. Students are becoming more enveloped in video games which in turn causes less physical activity in young students leading to higher obesity levels. The obesity rates in the United States have increased substantially and adolescents are now expected to live shorter lives than their parents (Fisher 2011).
Social media has also become a major contribution to the obesity increase in adolescents. The amount of social media apps that are getting released increases every day. Social media has quickly become the biggest distraction to adolescents. They are spending a significant amount of time looking at social media sites throughout the day, and they are running out of time to do other things. Many of these apps refresh every second, so students always have something new to look at. Students are getting so addicted to social media, that they are neglecting the physical activity opportunities that they have. Health educators know that the best way to interact with friends and family is in person, but social media is beginning to change all of that. Nowadays, students will communicate or “socialize” with others through their phone or computer screen. Social media allows for a much faster style of communication, but this takes away from having to physically get up and move to see someone. Studies have sought out to find correlations between the use of screen time and obesity among children. These studies focused on reducing the amount of time that children spent using electronics and replacing the remainder of the time with physical activity. These studies show a direct relationship between screen media viewing and gaining weight. They demonstrate reducing screen media time can result in less BMI gain in young people. (Robinson et al., 2017). There is a direct increase in the BMI levels of students who spend more time playing videos games than being active or exercising.
Social norms are unwritten accepted practices that society follows. These influence behaviors in social groups and cultures. In recent decades there has been a fat acceptance movement, that encourages social acceptance of all body sizes, including extreme obesity. These norms have raised concerns from doctors and other health care professionals. The problem is that people who do not believe they are overweight, or who view it as a positive instead of negative thing, are less likely to be concerned with the harmful effects of being overweight and getting treatment. Now that this has been accepted by society it will be hard to change the way people view obesity. One of the biggest contributing factors that reinforces the acceptance of obesity is the convenience of fast food.
Consumption of fast food and junk food have become the norm for most of America. The inexpensiveness and availability of fast food has caused a rise in obesity. Another reason why eating based on social norms is so prevalent is for people to feel connected to one another or trying to fit in with social groups. This is a problem that physical education teachers have to face when educating the younger generation. Students are trying to figure out who they are while growing up with influences from home, their peers, and school. Physical education teachers will be one of the best resources at school for children when to comes to staying healthy. With this responsibility it is important that we use our influence on students in a positive way and give them accurate information so they can make healthy informed decision instead of succumbing to social norms.
All of the problems discussed have had negative effects on obesity. The issue with this epidemic is that television, social media, video games, and social norms are not going away anytime soon. Technology is only going to get more advanced and easily accessible to adolescents. There needs to be more research done on how to prevent childhood obesity using pop culture to our advantage. Social media can be used as an outlet to promote physical activity when used the right way. A strategic way of doing this is to promote online communities for support based on social media. Research shows that higher support of weight loss feedback was shown through Twitter followers above friends and family. There are also bloggers who report their weight loss and feel accountable to their readers to keep posting about physical activity because they hear stories of change. (Khajeheian et al., 2018). Video games can be used effectively to encourage being active such as games on the Wii that require movement. Facts have shown technology and social media can be used in such creative ways to promote change.
Overall, pop culture has a vast effect on obesity levels in youth. Pop culture, as discussed, is changing social norms and the use of technology through outlets of television, social media, video games. Children are choosing to live sedentary lifestyles based on the after school activities that are popular in today’s society. More time is spent looking at a screen then being outside and this creates a problem. Technology is growing and will continue to affect obesity rates in adolescents. Change in this trend has started to occur by using media a platform to promote physical activity. Children love to use technology so putting useful information on what they are interested can help decrease the number of overweight and obese children seen today.
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- Robinson, T. N., Banda, J. A., Hale, L., Lu, A. S., Fleming-Milici, F., Calvert, S. L., & Wartella, E. (2017). Screen Media Exposure and Obesity in Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics, 140(Suppl 2), S97-S101. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5769928/