The Internet is making kids fat, and it’s time the government did something. That was the impression “American Morning” gave its January 25 audience with a report by Dr. Sanjay Gupta that neglected to give parents tips for supervising their children’s Internet usage, while lamenting a lack of government regulation.
Not only are more American children than ever overweight, “Now there’s evidence of hidden messages that could be adding to America’s weight problem,” anchor Soledad O’Brien teased as she introduced Gupta’s story on kid-friendly online games at food and candy Web sites.
CNN’s in-house doctor used his “Fit Nation” story to hype a 6-month-old study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“As we look at the problem of childhood obesity, and as we look at the possible role of food marketing … we need to be sure we’re looking at online food marketing to kids,” insisted Kaiser’s Vicky Rideout, pointing to her group’s July 19, 2006, study  that suggests candy and cereal Web sites featuring online games aggravate the nation’s “obesity epidemic” among children.
Rideout’s prescription for the outbreak of pudgy kids hunched over the keyboard seemed to point to government regulation.
“The Internet is potentially way more powerful than television advertising ever dreamed of being, but it’s also way more challenging in terms of any kind of oversight,” Rideout added.
Of course, computers and cable modems have off buttons and software exists for parents to block unwanted Web sites. And of course most young children rely on their parents for food shopping or allowance money they might use to buy snacks.
Yet rather than giving parents practical advice to get their kids more physically active and less reliant on Internet games, Gupta lamented a lack of government regulation of the Internet.
“Where television ads are regulated in length, Internet ads for now are only regulated voluntarily,” Gupta noted, before tossing in a 6-second sound bite from industry spokesman Daniel Jaffe.
“I believe that if you really did look at these sites, you would find quite a number of foods that are healthy,” said Jaffe of the Association of National Advertisers.
Back in the New York studio, O’Brien told viewers the government might be riding in to help after all.
“The Federal Trade Commission is also studying junk food ads to see how manufacturers are marketing to children,” the CNN host told her breakfast-hour audience.
The Business & Media Institute has reported on the media’s recurring hype about food advertising to children. For example, ABC’s Lisa Stark picked up on the Kaiser study with her July 26, 2006, “World News Tonight” story , and on the December 7, 2005, “Early Show,”  Dr. Emily Senay compared cartoon characters that hawk cereals and candy to one that was an icon for tobacco.
“Parents certainly have a role to play, here, but this is very powerful stuff,” CBS’s medical correspondent lamented of Internet advertising, “it’s not unlike, for example Joe Camel.”