Computers and TV 'not to blame for child obesity'
By Sarah Womack, Social Affairs Correspondent
Academics have challenged Government claims that television and computer games are creating a "couch potato" generation of obese youngsters.
Dr Michael Gard and Prof Jan Wright say no scientific study has shown a clear link between children's weight and the amount of television they watch, or how long they spend surfing the internet.
"Evidence shows that kids who use technology the most are actually more likely, not less likely, to be physically active," said Dr Gard.
"Claims about TV causing obesity are simply not based on fact. They come from age-old anxieties over technology."
In a controversial new book to be published on Monday and entitled The Obesity Epidemic, Dr Gard and Prof Wright reviewed 250 international scientific studies on obesity published over the last four years. They report that much of what was said, particularly about childhood obesity, was based on weak or contradictory evidence that ignored basic research standards.
Medical researchers and social commentators were driven by cultural views of overweight people as bad, lazy, gluttonous and stupid and while obesity was rising, it was neither a disease, nor an epidemic, nor a "crisis crippling economies and health care systems".
The commonly-used Body Mass Index (BMI) was also an inaccurate and arbitrary measure of fatness that was causing unnecessary alarm. BMI compares a person's weight to their height by dividing the weight measurement - expressed in kilograms - by the square of the height, expressed in metres.
By this measurement, the Department of Health says that a quarter of all adults and six per cent of two- to 20-year-olds in Britain are "obese'.
Dr Gard said that it was plain to see that youngsters were more active than ever.
"My nieces and nephews are very busy kids. They spend a lot of time being driven to ballet and soccer, and they still have five Nintendos at home," he said. "My niece is a mad soccer player and she unwinds by watching videos, yet we have this idea that technology turns minds and bodies to mush."
He and Prof Wright said that ideas about obesity causing the downfall of British sport, or obesity being caused by moral degeneration since the 1960s, had no foundation in fact, and were the product of nostalgia.
Dr Gard added: "Science has got to stop looking for simple answers, because obesity is not a simple problem.
"If we really want to do something about it, we need to consider radical social policies such as controlling the food industry in the same way as we regulate the tobacco industry."
Dr Gard is senior lecturer in health studies at Charles Sturt University in New South Wales and Jan Wright is professor of education and associate dean at the University of Wollongong, in New South Wales.
Last year Sir Liam Donaldson, the Government's top medical adviser, warned about the health risks posed by Britain's "couch potato culture".
Young People's Media Network - Coordinator
c/o ECMC (European Centre for Media Competence)
Bergstr. 8 / 10th floor
D-45770 Marl - Germany
Mobile: +49 176 23107083
Fax: +49 12126 23107083
Mailing list: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/youthful-media