OK, so maybe I'm not the person to scream about the obvious dangers of television. I get to dabble in it for a living Ñ and once in a while maybe even make you want to watch it, too. So call me a hypocrite Ñ it wouldn't be the first time.
But you've got to take my word for it: There's a growing big-screen, remote-control, cable-ready epidemic that's endangering our kids like never before. Call it 'Americans Idled.' And place the blame squarely on us Ñ the erstwhile members of the TV Generation.
You know who I mean. We're the TV-addicted parents who have spent the better part of our lives vegetating in prime time. We take it for granted that it's perfectly fine to spend more time watching TV a day than, say, sleeping.
Well, maybe we can share some of the blame with those Newsweek brainiacs who splashed a big headline reading 'Why TV Is Good for Kids' all over a recent cover.
It's time for a massive reality check, and all we've got to do is look at our kids. Obesity among children and adults in the United States has doubled since 1980. Among adolescents, it's tripled. And among black and Hispanic kids, obesity is rising twice as fast.
According to Dr. Mel Kohn, Oregon's state epidemiologist, we are the first Western state to report that one in five adults is obese.
If our kids are fat now, there's a 70 percent to 80 percent chance that they will be as adults, putting them at increased risk for heart disease, stroke Ñ the list goes on. Type 2 diabetes is rising like a rocket among children, a byproduct of an overweight culture.
Go ahead and blame it on fast food, video games and the Web. You wouldn't be wrong. But you'd be missing the big picture: Television is the straw that stirs the milkshake.
Never in the history of the medium have there been more reasons to want to turn on the TV. With the explosion of cable and satellite, the VCR and DVD, there's always something that any toddler or teen would watch contentedly. Kids have Nickelodeon; teenagers glom on to MTV or BET; and the rest of us are hooked on 'Fear Factor' or the evening's hoops on ESPN between two college teams we don't care about.
Before the cable universe exploded into hundreds of channels, there was always the chance that the TV might be turned off. Remember long ago, when you'd turn on the TV and there was nothing worth watching? In most U.S. households, that happenstance is disappearing. Do the math: With more televisions per household, more channels and more programs, you have a nation of slugs burning off fewer calories.
The great thing about the TV habit is, there's no need to go cold turkey. Ask any pediatrician or teacher and they'll tell you: The less time children watch TV, the better. Put limits on it. It's something that works.
You can then watch the pounds come off.