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TV sample shocked me

I don't usually watch television. Not when I have a life anyway. About six months after I moved in with my daughter Kitten, son in law Karl and two grandkids, we all unanimously canceled our cable TV subscription because literally no one was watching it. The littles weren't allowed, they had kid video on DVD in a huge library of shows like Between the Lions and Sesame Street that have helped them learn reading, math, all sorts of things. Also we've got a good movie collection and a few old SF series on DVD for entertainment. The current crop of TV fare at the time we dropped it was dull as dishwater compared to our favorites and it just wsan't worth the bother -- not to mention we get real annoyed at the two-minute commercial interruptions that have become standard.

The segment of any show or movie you see nowadays seems to be only as long as the commercial break itself. I noticed this when I bought Meerkat Manor for my grandkids and realized how often it was reintroducing itself. That was scary.

But this just got ugly -- grade school ugly. I was surfing the news off my Google widget, happened to follow a story on Fox News and clicked on a video title in curiosity. The news segment, basically filler, was about a Boston program to have obese children visit some seals at an aquarium and imitate their movements.

Okay, the idea was sound -- anything that could make exercise more fun for kids is probably going to give them good habits. A visit to an aquarium would beat being screamed at by humiliating gym instructors to any kid. Marine mammals are graceful, playful and interesting. The program had a good premise.

So I clicked on the video.

I haven't seen such a flamefest against fat kids since I was an overgrown fat kid in grade school. The entire two minute segment made fun of the program in a snotty, grade-school tone. I know what the bullies grew up to do -- they work for Fox News. One blonde starlet-looking female was snottily going on about how kids couldn't possibly be inspired by coruplent sea mammals, they should be exposed to famous-name female celebrities that she implied were fit and trim and of course Hollywood-gorgeous.

For children. Yeah right. Rub it in that they don't look like TV personalities or like her.

I noticed all four of the people featured in the segment were white, looked wealthy, one was a bit heavy but the one female in it was one of the types of overly skinny over-made-up glamor gals while the guys just looked bland but prosperous. This was downright scary.

Child obesity is a real problem, something the children themselves usually have very little control of. What they eat is often determined by parents. What they see on television constantly prompts them to eat, especially fats and sugars, but the school environment demands they sit still for most of the day with as much exercise as your average cubicle slave. They don't get time off any more, they get homework assignments that if they completed all of them is a shift as long as a second job -- again, sitting still doing what they're told.

Then for entertainment what they get is interrupted every two minutes by a food commercial. Human beings respond to food commercials. I noticed that my appetite dropped when I quit watching regular cable with commercials -- simply because I wasn't being reminded of food constantly over and over again. It's not that these commercials are so hypnotic that I had unreasonable cravings for Red Lobster or Applebee's in particular. It's more that the reminders begin to mount up.

Most people don't pay attention to commercials, or like to think they don't. They're annoying so they get tuned out -- but they will still have an influence. Just the same way a person who's in a room for an hour with a toddler's constant attention demands will get stressed and irritated, the commercials are going to get on people's nerves -- but not always noticed as such because it's not really worth mentioning unless a specific commercial is especially funny or annoying.

The numbers of children affected by clinical obesity are staggering. It's up to about a third of the kids in the country. It's not one kid in a classroom of skinny kids, like when I grew up and grew too fast and matured too fast while being stocky. I look at kids today and many more of them look the way I did or much fatter. In high school, I was stocky and crooked and everyone else shot up past me to wind up skinny and long-legged. Now, if I see teenagers, a significant third of them are heavy too -- sometimes extremely so.

It hurts their health and worse, it can distort their minds. The levels of humiliation about it haven't changed at all. You'd think with it being that common it'd start being taken for granted as common, but it's not. Instead the shrinking number of kids who do get enough activity and eat healthier diets are just as vicious as they ever were toward kids that have a weight problem.

And now on Fox News, on a network that hosts a whole lot of children's programming, there's this snarky segment going on about how one creative approach to treating childhood obesity (which often leads to adult obesity) is so ludicrous, "replacing gym teachers with animals" and other stupid remarks.

I tihnk the Boston program is pretty cool. It may help a lot of kids. It may also help them associate outings and science and activity with fun. Some of them may even become more environmentally active too, coming to like the seals from seeing them up close and enjoying their play.

What kids today need is peer time, play time, running around and screaming and socializing the way most of the normal kids got to when I was growing up. They need to get out of the building and be able to run down the street playing pirates or climb trees or play on jungle gyms. It's gotten so dangerous and so paranoid that kids never get unsupervised time any more -- so they get fat and passive, every activity supervised and structured by adults.

If you give kids a ball they will invent games for it. They will pass on children's culture generation by generation, creating and deciding the rules gives them some idea of how social decisions get made. It prepares them to participate in government and community direction actively. But when the leaders of every single thing children do are adults with their own grim agenda, you wind up with young adults who have literally no idea what to do next once they grow up and move out of their parents' home.

I've had housemates like that, young men who didn't know how to buy groceries or look for work, who sat around day after day bored and played video games ad infinitum. Video games are the only opportunity kids get today to do things in a nonstructured environment -- they can socialize online with other players and the fantasy might be illustrated but the appeal of the games is that it's something to fill a real need for socializing with equals. No one learns to lead just by following and obeying or giving up and rebelling, without any context other than being an underling.

There have been many articles all my life dealing with how bad television is for children. Most of them focus on the targets of the Puritanical crowd -- oh horrors, there's sex and violence in the content. It's not the sex and violence. It's the harmless boring commercials for fast food, sugary breakfast cereals and expensive restaurants with their glowing presentations of food that are doing a lot of harm - along with the appearance-oriented products all presenting a shallow yet perfectionist view of self ranked by looks and wealth. No one real is ever good enough to compare with those commercials.

That content pounds in, interrupting every two minutes, no matter what the content of the shows are. It's honest, each one is just an advertiser's attempt to present its particular company's products and gain sales. But the fact that it's gotten that far out of hand shapes the national psyche. Reminders to feel guilty and ashamed of enjoying good food are just as common -- you get the triple whammy of food commercial, diet commercial and appearance-related commercials all in the same segment which creates the social role of "you're not good enough, comfort yourself with fatty foods and hate yourself for doing it."

Anything that breaks that mold gets laughed at -- like the idea that sending obese kids to a sea aquarium where first of all they've got the activity of going to the outing itself, which does take some walking and moving around and is special enough to get some heartpounding excitement, followed by a vigorous playful event watching and playing with sea mammals -- that gets treated as though it's the dumbest thing invented since commercials.

It made me sick to see what Fox has descended to, because there was a time years ago when the Simpsons were new that Fox was the oddball station you could find cool stuff on and views that broke the monolithic conservatism of the three majors at the time. Now it's major and it's worse than its predecessors.

More than ever, I think that we're exercising the right kind of parental controls -- purchasing the programs and movies that are entertaining, high quality and good for the kids while leaving out the worst of the content altogether.

And once again I'm glad to get my news on the Internet, where it's not linear -- where it's rare for me to wsate my time on something as viciously stomach-churning as that Fox News filler bit. I choose my own headlines to read when it comes to filler, and the Odd News tends to have fun and funny bits that don't involve blaming kids for things they can't control while putting down anything that could conceivably help them.

One anthropological reason for obesity in children and women is that since the 1950s, breast feeding became taboo. Children raised on cow's milk formulas with corn syrup have metabolisms geared to high sugar and crave it the rest of their lives, they get fat. Obese babies are so common that obesity is considered the norm and medically obese babies get considered cute -- and then people wonder why they were fat as little kids, teens and adults.

On the mother's side of it, women who breast feed their kids take off the pounds after their pregnancy fast. Their bodies put on those pounds to pump it right through as nutrition to the baby -- hundreds of thousands of years of evolution prepare female mammals to eat for two. Not while they're pregnant so much as afterward. Women who don't breast feed have told their bodies the baby's dead, so that hoard of fat gets saved for the next one and the next. Then mysteriously a ludicrously high number of women wind up overweight after having kids and the stereotype is that mothers aren't thin or sexy.

Every woman I've known who actually breast fed her babies has taken that extra weight off and kept it off, completed that natural process by putting the calories where they belong, into a healthy growing child. Their babies look different too -- longer and more muscular, not as blobby looking. They get actual baby fat -- but one way you can tell real baby fat is that it comes and goes overnight.

One day Gabriel would look pudgy with overlapping knees and rounded limbs -- and then the morning after he'd be obviously a lot taller and a lot more compact and muscular. Both of them wound up that way. He's got a stocky build unlike her tall lanky build, but both are healthy looking in a way that a lot of little kids aren't. They also got used to fruits and vegetables and grains as snacks and don't expect candy or sweets very often, they think of things like that as special treats over a very long term. They crave fruit and get it.

I look at the obese children that I used to see in the school that was across the back road behind our Kansas house and know that their mothers' decision to breastfeed or not, their parents' decision what to feed them every day has a lot to do with how they wound up with that problem. Tell a kid or brag to adults that "the children aren't allowed any sugar" and it feeds into the dieting-guilt-overeating cycle. But my daughter doesn't do that. Instead, when she gives them those infrequent treats she makes a big deal of them as treats, they are more special, they aren't all-or-nothing forbidden. Instead each kid gets a chocolate birthday cake to do whatever they want with including make a mess.

There are ways to raise kids without either obesity or the social self-punishment cycle the ads are inadvertently selling.

Then there is another series of real science articles I've read in better places, many of them science periodicals. Dieting itself causes the body to hoard food. The dieting industry rests on this idea of periodic self-punishment and failed diets, if anyone ever succeeds at losing weight and keeping it off then they're no longer a customer. Periodic intermittent starvation resets a person's metabolism to where digestion gets ruthlessly efficient. Every possible calorie gets drawn out of anything that goes into the system... and then the dieter can't stand the deprivation any more, goes off the diet and everything on the binge gets grabbed and hoarded by the same metabolism -- which has adapted to an environment where food is not always available but copious when it is.

Humans adapt the same way as other animals. The only way to keep weight down is to gradually start introducing healthier foods and gradually change your habits till you're eating healthy portions for maintenance, get more activity and keep digestion moving fast. To turn off the scare alarm that you're going to starve next week or month and those extra pounds could mean life or death, in favor of adapting to an environment where food is plentiful and good.

And don't forget actual nutrients. Malnutrition and lack of vitamins or essential minerals creates cravings -- and sometimes something can be in a bad food in trace quantity that creates enormous cravings. Satisfy those mineral and vitamin cravings, eat the broccoli when you can't get broccoli off your mind, and weight stabilizes because you don't need as much broccoli to get its minerals and vitamis as you would getting artificially flavored imitation cheese food. (Imitation cheese or imitation food? Sorta both really.)

But most people don't seem to know about them or care. Let alone the children themselves, it'd be a rare child who understood these things and had enough freedom of choices in life to gradually lose weight and gain strength and activity. The culture is immersive and it comes off the tube in much more consistency in the ads than the programming -- except for Fox News, which hit a new low in that little filler bit today.

That's right. Take some first or second grader watching the news to get items for a school report and then show these privileged high-status white adults making fun of a program that would be fun instead of the miserable grind of fake-drill-sergeant gym instruction and large dollops of humiliation. While taking many pot shots at the fat kids themselves threatening to put them in cages with mountain lions to make them have to run for their lives. It's all good for a cheap laugh.

They don't know why they wound up that way, they're kids. They only know from the point they hit television age that they're destined to a life of humiliation, self-punishment and deprivation.

News announcers act like they're trusted authorities, they've always had that image. But these three acted like the worst brats on the schoolyard. What message does that send? Bullies do well in life. Indulge in picking on people. You'll wind up running everything.

They're actors, paid to entertain. But a lot of the content is determined by advertisers and their sales numbers, so everything that reinforces that starve-and-binge outlook on life has geniune financial feedback. They'll make more money promoting unhealthy, disfunctional behavior and attitudes, so they will choose programs that make the commercials make sense and the content all has a seamless message. Give up, you'll never look that good so you might as well binge before you have to diet. Or, if you do look that good, continue the viciousness and put down anyone who's not perfect, you'll go far.
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( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 7th, 2009 07:54 pm (UTC)
Heh, Fox News is referred to by many people as Faux News for a reason. I liken it to talk radio, except with pictures.

Jul. 7th, 2009 08:18 pm (UTC)
Yep. I think you may be right. I've heard comments like that all along, but didn't really see the depth it descended to until I saw that bit of filler. Heck, talk radio sounded good in concept till I actually tuned it in -- sounded like it'd be like a forum discussion, but instead it turns out to draw out all the ignoranti.
Jul. 7th, 2009 10:29 pm (UTC)
I freely admit that I'm a lard-butt right now, and that some of it is my own doing. But a good bit of the foundation was laid by my parents. You're right in that when it comes to children, their diet is controlled by someone else. And seeing as how the current trend is to give kids whatever they want to keep them from screaming and being annoying, what young child is going to demand carrot sticks when mommy and daddy are letting them eat chocolate every time they cry in the grocery store?

My parents set up a whole load of dietary problems for me, and I'm only just starting to knock down those barriers so that I can make some headway in losing weight and becoming more healthy. And I'm not the only one. The problem is that by the time most kids can choose their own diets, patterns are pretty set in stone, and they've had 16-20 years of eating crap that not only do they have to break out of, but they have to lose the weight that so many years of eating crap put on them in the first place.

I agree that anything that can get kids outside and playing is a good thing. Imitating sea animals might not be the thing that will fix the world's weight problems, but it's a start, and it's no bad thing either way. Heck, even if it doesn't help burn a few calories, kids are having fun and learning at the same time, and the education system has always had trouble managing to mix and balance those two things.

As much as sometimes my limited collection of DVDs gets boring, I'm kind of glad I don't have TV, if I'd be subjected to that crap. :/
Jul. 8th, 2009 12:48 am (UTC)
Oh yeah. It can get frustrating with a short video library, but then as soon as I sample what's going out on cable I find out why I'm better off sticking to buying favorites.

Your metabolism was set by all those things and it takes enormous effort to change your entire lifestyle -- including getting rid of stress. I just did a HubPages article on it too, went into more depth than this entry, and in it I linked to another one that may help a lot. http://hubpages.com/hub/Television-and-Weight-Control has the link to the other one, which is more about the actual healthier foods and habits.

You live an active life doing a lot of outdoor things. Don't underestimate what your childhood metabolic distortions are doing now or what current stress does to it. In the article I linked to in mine, Pam Grundy pointed out the actual chemistry of what goes on with stress and weight gain. Continued stress makes people put on fat. This is a body response to a fear of starvation, to having to run for your life or work harder for your food. The body metabolizes more efficiently, to the point of not losing an empty calorie, and that causes people on diets to wind up gaining weight while keeping on them strictly.

Then rebound and gain even more weight once it's over if they made it work, which isn't easy in the first place.

Adding more fruits and vegetables to what you eat without actually dieting at all can help people lose weight, that's shown up in tests, maybe it's that the added nutrition starts easing the fat-storage system off Red Alert because the body recognizes food is plentiful and good. Habit changes are the only thing that works for any lenght of time, and that's what you're doing.

Yep. It may work for some and not others but I think even the kids it doesn't work for (who may not be able to escape the family dinner table or resist those 'go away' treats at all) will have fun and learn something, so why run down a program like that? Unless you're just being snotty and putting down children for a laugh, because that might get some ratings bringing out the viewers' mean streak.

I know that kids watched that show and a third of the kids watching it are obese and instead of finding out "Oh wow that'd be neat, wish they had it at my school" they got humiliated for two solid minutes of jokes about fat kids.

Let them out of their cubicles and give them free time with things they're allowed to play rough with, and it's amazing how much energy little kids will put into playing. That they don't jump in with boundless enthusiasm for organized sports and required activities is not the same thing as an aversion to exercise. Very often things people are forced to do are no fun at all.
Jul. 8th, 2009 10:02 am (UTC)
Admittedly, even if we have a relatively small DVD library, we do like enough stuff to look forward to new box set releases, and have things that we want to watch when we can afford to pick up the next season. House, Battlestar Galactica, and I wouldn't mind CSI or Angel on DVD either, for completion's sake. :p There are some good sites that allow shows to be watched online, too, though unfortunately for me, most of those can only be taken advantage of in America. But there are still options, which is good.

Part of my inability to lose weight seems to be because I don't eat enough. I know I've talked to you before about this, and you're one of the few people that understands why that actually works. The biggest weight change I actually had in the past few years was when I was eating better and doing more exercise, which meant that I was also eating more than the bare minimum, so in eating better, I actually put on weight. But I'd expected that and didn't get discouraged. I knew I had to convince my body that I was going to stop near-starving it so that it'd let go of all those extra fat reserves.

(Then, of course, I lost motivation for other reasons, and need to get back on that plan. A sprained ankle sure puts the kibosh on a lot of exercises...)

That they don't jump in with boundless enthusiasm for organized sports and required activities is not the same thing as an aversion to exercise.

Complete agreement. I hate most team sports with a fiery passion, and I know a good amount of it is because I got made fun of by just about everyone when I was in school. That, and after a certain point in my life, every gym teacher seemed to assume that somebody else had already explained all the rules of every sport that could be played in gym class, and so didn't bother to give us any coaching. Just split us into teams and let us have at it. And unfortunately for me, not being into sports nor having had a previous teacher that gave a crap about gym or physical education, I was left baffled and confused and made a lot of mistakes that made sure I was made fun of even more. There probably would have been sports I could have enjoyed, if anybody had actually taken the time to explain them when I was young.

Or if not sports, then another physical activity. I like to walk. I can't run very well because of my size and my cruddy lungs, but I always want to run, and have ever since I was little. I wanted to go outside and play about as much as any kid, but my parents didn't like me to because I'd get dirty, so I always stayed inside. Heck, pretending to be a lion out on the front lawn was more activity than I usually did, and while it wouldn't have solved every problem, it would have at least got me outside, moving around and having fun.

I was reading an article a while back about the state of American education, and it included a quote from a teacher at a conference who said flat out that she was told her job wasn't so much to educate kids, but to prepare them for life after school, in the workforce, and so they needed to get used to not being stimulated. If that's the attitude being pushed in schools these days, then it's no wonder kids don't want to do anything!
Jul. 8th, 2009 07:15 pm (UTC)
Yep. This is why I think the seals program is going to be such a hit. A lot of those kids aren't allowed outside or allowed to play and it doesn't take any specialized rules study to just get down and roll around like a seal and hump around and giggle about it -- and laugh at everybody because everyone looks silly doing it, even the teachers. It breaks up all the bullying context. There's no winner. There's no "loser, you're not doing it right."

That fits, that quote from the teacher. "They needed to get used to not being stimulated." Yeah right. School is for indoctrinating a passive, obedient workforce incapable of organizing a labor union. It's supposed to crush initiative except on the path of grooming the bullies for management. There's a great essay online about its history and where this attitude comes from -- it was there in the schools from the point they were founded. "Against School" is the title, by an ex teacher named Gatto.

Most kids will learn tons more outside school or in alternative schools, it's why there are so many successes out of alternative schools because they're competing with a system designed to hobble kids. It's a little more efficient at it every generation too, the current levels it now takes getting halfway through college to get to what used to be considered finishing high school.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )


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