05 May 2009

The Media isn't Making Us Fat? Wha??

I have been watching one of my favorite television programs – “The Biggest Loser Couples.” It got me to thinking that media is often treated as the reason why kids are overweight. However, the media is a scapegoat and more than ever people are actually learning what to do to be healthy and the media can be a great way to show people what is possible. This season, one of the contestants was Mike, an 18 year-old kid who was morbidly obese and now he is in the top four contenders and very well may take home the prize. It is amazing and without the television program he may never have saved his own life, let alone all the people that will be inspired to make changes in their lives. With this show there is hilariously obvious product placement, but that said, it is a great way for adults and kids like to find hope and help. While it is important to teach kids about body image and the advertising industry, I feel like there can be a disconnect between information literacy and physical education.

In addition to “The Biggest Loser” and “The Biggest Loser Couples,” “The Doctors,” and Dr. Oz’s appearances on “Oprah,” there are other sources of support for weight loss and management in a healthy way. Of course, when it comes down to it, people have to make healthy choices themselves, but media today vs. even a decade ago is hugely different. In older shows you would never see people working out. One of my favorite shows is “Smallville” and it occurred to me that I felt empowered that they show Louise Lane running instead of her curves being unexplained natural beauty. It may be a small blip in the universe of unhealthy body images, but it made me happy not only for me, but also for the future kids that will grow up seeing that. I hope that this is a trend that will continue on in other programs.

As people become more interested in being green I feel there is a movement towards making a new balance between technology and a fitness of body and soul. I think this is exemplified in the popularity of Dance Dance Revolution and of course the Wii. This also is shown in the marketing of technologies like iPods. With iPhones and Blackberry devices there are applications that can help give advice and track progress. It is cool to be fit and part of this cool is supported by media and so a media literate youth will have a chance to deepen their knowledge of fitness.

Online websites like RealAge.com (from Dr. Oz and Dr. Rosen) have forums and tools. A great part of this particular site is that it gives advice based on a user survey. You only need to go on Myspace, Facebook, or Livejournal to see that surveys are hugely popular. With answering the questions on Real Age, results are analyzed and personalized. From this account people can find out what their “real age” is vs. their actual calendar age. There are suggestions on how to improve oneself based on the answers provided. Websites for health magazines and for shows like The Biggest Loser provide tools and communities. Earlier this year we talked about horrible body image websites that teens with eating disorders could visit, but there also are healthy websites where teens can share healthy information and support each other in being active.

Certainly there are a lot of negative influences, but there are so many ways that technologies can help people be active and take control of their lives (including youth). For example, many treadmills even have ways to track progress. When it comes down to it, clearly people have to work hard and take care of themselves, but technology doesn’t need to stand in the way. Technologies can actually help people, including youth, realize their potential. Of course you do not need to understand media to be healthy, but there is so much potential for technologies to help support an active lifestyle that instead of focusing on what is wrong and simply blaming the media perhaps we should also focus on how recent developments in video gaming, television programming, telephone applications, and the Internet are actually promoting an active lifestyle. There will always be the kids that thrive under competition, but for those that shy way from this, now there are ways for them to see being active as a fun and stress-relieving way to live.

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