Civilization, Whither Art Thou

Commentary on Society and Civilization

NFL Play 60

NFL Play 60 has a mission of "to make the next generation of youth the most active and healthy." They claim that they are tackling childhood obesity and perhaps they are; but how much of the cause of childhood obesity is the responsibility of the NFL and other sports organizations? Let's be clear, I am in no way saying that the NFL is solely responsible for childhood obesity or obesity in general, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they do have a role in it. I recently heard a comedian who was joking about the new generation. He compared his childhood to theirs and made a joke about how his nephew can beat him at Wii Bowling just by sitting on the couch and flicking his wrist; while he is getting gutter balls with his "perfect form." But what about EA Sports' line of wildly successful NFL games? Wii Bowling is funny, but is it any less odd compared to a kid making a 60 yard TD pass sitting on the couch? Not really, it's just that we accept EA Sports football games with traditional controllers, while Wii games use the newfangled motion controller (it doesn't help that Wii hints in their advertising that kids are active while they play the Wii games). The question becomes, would the kids play the NFL themed video games if we didn't idolize the football stars -- the same stars who make NFL Play 60 possible? I don't think so. The follow up question is, would they just play other video games if America didn't have a fascination with the NFL? Probably. Thus, the NFL football players and the NFL itself are not directly responsible for childhood obesity, but only part of a larger problem. So is there a solution? Not a clear one. Many factors contribute to childhood obesity ranging from easy access to high calorie foods like chips and soda all the way to reduction in funding for PE and time allocated to recess. But how much time is spent in front of the television watching football? Years ago football was on Sunday night. Then there was Monday night football (prime time). Then there was Thursday night football. Recently we added more preseason games and training camps are a huge deal for not only fans but fantasy football fans. In fact, fantasy football is now a multi-billion dollar industry -- see So how much time is spent on fantasy -- either in the form of video games, online fantasy teams, online games, or otherwise -- versus time that could be spent on being active? Probably a lot of time. A recent survey showed that about two-thirds of Americans watch the NFL. An NFL game takes around 3 hours. If you watch Sunday and Monday night football (just one game per day) that's 6 hours of free time for that week. If you take into account eating, showering and the like, homework, chores, and talking to family that's somewhere between 1 and 3 days of free time gone for a kid depending on who that kid is. That's huge for watching 2 football games. So now you've got a kid who watches 2 games a week and then starts to play football based football games. It could be the case that they spend much of their time sitting on the couch engaged in football. That's major. Play 60 tries to encourage kids to play for 60 minutes a day, but the fact is that it is more likely that their entertainment business consumes over 60 minutes of time per day of a kid -- especially during the football season. For example, even without football video games if a kid watches two 3 1/2 hour games in a week (either Thursday, Saturday (NCAA -- the minors of the NFL), Sunday, or Monday) they have just put in their 60 minutes each day of watching football. Add in some video games, fantasy games, or something else and they easily have spent over 60 minutes per day of sitting on the couch. This article does not claim that if football went away tomorrow childhood obesity would end. It does not even mean to make the claim that football is the major reason we have childhood obesity. It merely points out the interesting phenomenon of pretending to be active from the couch via video games and other means of fantasy. If we truly want to be active we need to begin to value programs like physical education, to see the value of recess, and for parents to step up and not let their kids spend so much time on the couch.

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