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The role media plays in our kids health

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It’s confusing to be an adolescent trying to stay healthy these days. Mixed messages are being directed at our kids from all different directions. They are constantly being told what to do by the authority figures in their lives…parents, teachers, coaches, doctors and the like. At times the messages from this crew of authority figures are in alignment with one another, but more often than not, they aren’t. Then you throw media into the mix. Just flip on the television and listen—really listen—to the messages that are being directly marketed to our youth.

I can talk about nutrition until I’m blue in the face with my 12 year old, but there is just no convincing him that the Red Bull company I detest with a passion is selling liquid poison to his age group, trying to get him addicted at a young age so they can profit from him for years to come. He thinks I am being an over protective mom and that I’m a little bit too much of a health nut. I’m sorry, but we wouldn’t condone having the local drug dealer hanging out on the school playground, but it’s perfectly okay to have the Red Bull truck pull up at a skateboard competition and hand out free samples to a bunch of 10 and 12 year olds? It’s absurd. My son has his counterarguments on the ready whenever I try to point out that he is a target of a very effective marketing campaign. “But mom, Joe so-and-so-professional-athlete drinks it before he competes and look how healthy and strong he is”.

And don’t get me started about Gatorade. I brought my son in for his annual physical to the local physician who shall remain nameless. He had very chapped lips at the time and I commented to the doctor about it, saying it was a sign of dehydration and Evan needed to drink more water. Evan promptly complained that he didn’t like the taste of water, so how did this so called health professional respond? “Well how about Gatorade? That tastes good!” I nearly fell off my chair. Sure, advise my already hyperactive, slightly ADHD child to guzzle down a bottle of artificially flavored and dyed chemicalized crap that I ban from my own home. I’m so glad I turned to a health professional for some support. I had kind of assumed he’d have my back on that one, but once again I was deemed incredible by a source my son considers to be an authority.

It’s not like I’m trying to have my kids drink wheatgrass and eat seaweed all day. I just want them to eat real, whole foods and stay away from all the processed, fake stuff that lines the supermarket shelves. As a parent I fight a daily battle against advertisers…they sneak into my kids lives through television, appealing packaging on grocery store shelves and check out lines, and celebrity endorsements in magazines and video games. Kids are made to believe that if they would only eat or drink product X they will achieve all kinds of success and have six pack abs to boot. Young, impressionable minds believe what they hear on television. It is a proven fact that they lack the cognitive ability before 12 years of age to recognize that the messages they hear on tv are direct advertisements meant to profit big business and are not necessarily the gospel truth. The marketing plan is genius on the part of these companies. It’s just entirely unscrupulous.

I have a plan. I discovered a program that was put together by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development called Media Smart Youth. It can be constructed as an after school activity, although I would love to see it incorporated directly into the school’s health curriculum in order to widen its reach, because face it, the kids who don’t sign up for it are the ones who need to hear the message the most. The program teaches kids to make sense of the messages they are receiving and to make educated choices for themselves, independent of outside influence. By combining nutritional education, healthy snacks, and physical fitness, this is a fun and interactive way to get a very important message across. The program culminates with a media presentation that is produced by the kids. I want to bring this into our schools and I am going to make every effort to do so in the upcoming year. Any parent out there who wants to get involved or would like more information, please contact me. There is strength in numbers!