Having difficulty losing weight? You’re not alone. About 25 percent of American adults are overweight , and the percentage of overweight children has doubled among 6 to 11-year-olds and tripled for those ages 12 to 19, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Nationwide, an estimated 15 percent of youths ages 6 to 19 are obese, according to survey findings.

Citing this increasing girth as a “national health crisis,” Congress asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2004 to examine the foods marketed directly to children to determine a link between early adoption of poor eating choices and its impact on adult weight. In response, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) published its study “Food Marketing to Children and Youth” which found that the market for children’s food products is in excess of $30 billion, with another $10 billion spent marketing these products to our nation’s youth.

While children are watching their favorite kiddie shows, they’re inundated with food messages since the lion’s share of these television advertisements are for food products. These food marketers use scientific methods in a comprehensive and unabashed effort to exploit the suggestibility of young children. “Kid archetypes” and “the psyche of mothers as family gatekeepers” are employed to elucidate the psychological base of children’s food choices. They use sophisticated advertising techniques to convince children that they, not their parents, know what to eat. These media messages help children recognize brands and induce them to pester their parents to buy them so that they can eat foods “just for them.” According to the study, by 2 years of age, most children can recognize products in supermarkets and ask for them by name.

You too have been exposed to these kinds of strategies for a long time now. From McDonald’s catchy “Big Mac Song” to Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef” commercials, you’ve grown up with these clever ploys to visit fast food establishments that stress convenience and high fat content over health benefits to the consumer. Be aware of these tactics and remain conscious of them to be successful in changing your lifestyle to achieve a healthy weight.

We also need to improve nutrition education at the elementary school level. Instilling healthy lifestyle habits should start very early in life. Unfortunately, most consumer education in that area comes from the media. To counteract that influence, parents should be diligent in helping their children learn how to eat healthy and to exercise regularly. This can be achieved by eating together often at the dinner table, engaging in physical activities together, and asking children for assistance in the kitchen and at the supermarket . Preparing healthy meals may take time and thought, but it can be done. Remember, parents are the greatest role models for their children, and the values instilled in them will last a lifetime.

Karla D. Boyce is a medical nutrition therapist at the Delaware Valley Institute of Fertility & Genetics (DVIF&G) in Lawrenceville. She is a Registered Dietitian (RD), Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist (LDN), and Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE. To make an appointment with her, please call 609-895-0088.

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