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Is technology behind the rise in childhood obesity?


Obesity: It's Complicated

Here's the thing: Technology is one of those neutral categories that can go either way depending on how you use it (and whose hands it's in). For instance: video games for training surgeons in hand-eye coordination? Good. Video games for wiling away the hours that may otherwise be spent playing after-school sports, organizing neighborhood games or just plain running around? Not so good.

That's one problem with the "technology equals obesity" claim. Another is that technology simply does not exist in a vacuum; it's subject to the same forces that drive modern society in general. Junk-food-manufacturers have latched onto social-networking sites, video games and cell phone apps as ideal vehicles for their high-calorie, high-fat messages, and researchers have found these marketing approaches to be even more effective than kid-targeted TV commercials (which are pretty darned effective).

This underscores one of the issues that complicates the matter. Childhood obesity is not only about a lack of exercise; it's also about an excess of fat and calories. It's tough to talk about weight problems without addressing poor eating habits, too, and those result from a whole slew of triggers, including not only marketing, but also a lack of knowledge on nutritional matters, a lack of time to make (or even seek out) high-quality meals, and the inescapable draws of fast food -- ease, low cost and (for many people) pure deliciousness.

What's the solution, then, to this complex problem? Well, it's complex, but in a word: parents. As with so many other childhood ills, it ultimately falls to the parents or guardians to dictate the rules. Experts recommend no more than two hours of sedentary "technology" use per day, and other experts call for at least 30 minutes of exercise five times a week. Making this a priority, and educating kids to the reasoning behind it, is at least a start toward reversing a health issue that really does threaten to ingrain itself in our culture.

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