April 5th, 2006

Studies Link Media to Modern Ills

By Alan Bavley
Kansas City Star

We are conducting an ongoing, uncontrolled experiment on this generation in terms of media exposure and potential future behavioral and physical consequences, and it seems unopposed by the media industry and most parents. ** Donald Shifrin, American Academy of Pediatrics

Blame it on the media.

Last week, the U.S. Senate took critical aim at violent video games. This week, the medical community is releasing a stack of studies linking TV and video games to a host of modern ills among Americas youth, including obesity, sexual activity, consumerism and antisocial behavior.

Media need to be recognized as a major public health issue as they are among the most profound influences on children in this country, researchers Dimitri A. Christakis and Frederick J. Zimmerman write in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

New research is needed because kids today are saturated with media that werent available 20 years ago, these experts say.

So it may be time to slap a warning sticker on the family television. Researchers this week called the nations mass media a public health issue that urgently needs to be addressed. To make their point, they released study after study that links TV and other media to obesity, sexual activity and other problems among children. The studies appear in the journals Pediatrics and Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Media and children: What researchers found

African-American children are heavily exposed to commercials for junk food. After-school programming on Black Entertainment Television ran more advertising for fast foods, sugary drinks and snacks than The WB or the Disney Channel.

* The more TV that third- and fourth-graders watched, the more frequently they asked their parents for the food, beverages and toys they saw advertised.

* White 12- to 14-year-olds who had a heavy diet of sexually oriented TV, music, movies and magazines were more than twice as likely to have intercourse when they reached 14 to 16 as teens who consumed less sexy media. The study in Pediatrics also found that black teens were influenced more by parents expectations and friends behavior than by media.

* Adolescents under 16 who watched TV two or more hours a day, and had parents who strongly disapproved of sex, were more likely to initiate sexual intercourse within a year. Sexual initiation was even more frequent when their parents didn’t regulate TV viewing.

* The more time children ages 6 to 12 spent watching violent TV programs without their friends, the less nontelevision time they spent with their friends. But the more time children spent watching TV with friends, the more time they spent together on other activities.

* Being awake in a room with a TV on for two or more hours a day raised the risk of being overweight among 3-year-olds. Tuning the TV to educational programming didn’t lower the risk.

* Male college students assigned to play the violent Grand Theft Auto III video game had higher blood pressure, more negative emotions and more permissive attitudes toward alcohol and marijuana than students who played The Simpsons game.

* The more time school-age children spent watching television, the more calories they consumed, largely in the form of potato chips, pop, candies, cookies and other foods commonly advertised on TV.

Media facts

* Average time spent daily using media by 8- to 18-year-olds: 6 hours, 21 minutes

* Children with TVs in their rooms: 68 percent

* Children with computers in their rooms: 31 percent

* Children living in households with no TV rules: 50 percent

* Households where TV rules are enforced: 1 in 5

Guidelines for parents

* Do not allow a childғs room to become a media center with TV, video games and Internet.

* Limit media time to 1 to 2 hours of quality programming a day.

* Discourage TV viewing by children under age 2.

* View and discuss media content with your child.

* Turn off the TV during meals and when no one is watching.

* Be a good media role model.

Sources: Kaiser Family Foundation, American Academy of Pediatrics

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