Internet, TV Deemed Bad For Kids' Health - InformationWeek

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12/2/2008
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Internet, TV Deemed Bad For Kids' Health

The strongest association identified is between media exposure and obesity.

Researchers from the Yale University School of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, and California Pacific Medical Center have reviewed 173 studies from the past 28 years about the impact of media on children and found a correlation between media exposure and undesirable health outcomes.

While media exposure isn't toxic, along the lines of melamine-laced milk or lead paint, it does appear to have health consequences for children. Eighty percent of the studies associated greater media exposure with negative health effects.

The report, published by Common Sense Media, weighs studies examining the effect of media exposure on seven health issues: childhood obesity, tobacco use, drug use, alcohol use, low academic achievement, sexual behavior, and attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity.

Media, as defined by the report, consists of "television, movies, Internet, electronic/video games, magazines, and music." It excludes advertising, journalism, and public-service announcements. Thus, this article probably won't affect your health adversely, as long as you're not reading it on a mobile device while driving a car.

The strongest association identified is between media exposure and obesity. Seventy-three studies looked at the possible correlation of screen time -- Internet and TV -- and obesity, and 86% of them found "a statistically significant relationship" between the two, according to the report.

Inactivity, it seems, contributes to weight gain.

"Media is increasingly pervasive in the lives of children and adolescents," said James P. Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media, in a statement. "Parents and educators must consider the effects of media when they're trying to address issues with their child's health. This report makes it clear that we need a bold new agenda on media and technology use. We hope this report will create a new sense of urgency in that regard."

The report also found that a link between media exposure and tobacco use in 88% of the 24 studies on the topic. Nineteen out of 24 (84%) studies looking at media content and tobacco use found that viewing tobacco use "had a significant association with an increase in tobacco use." And in five studies analyzing time spent watching TV, there was a correlation between greater screen time and increased tobacco use.

The report recommends limiting media exposure and encouraging children to "spend more time playing instead of watching -- and playing real games instead of virtual ones."

At the same time, while the benefits of outdoor exercise are not in doubt, the risk of injury is significantly higher in the real world than in the online role-playing game "World Of Warcraft."

The report acknowledges that many factors contribute to childhood obesity and also recommends that policymakers limit the advertising of junk food to kids. Yet it fails to contemplate whether limiting junk food consumption might curtail childhood obesity more effectively than limiting media consumption.

It also makes no mention of media-driven exercise systems, like Nintendo's Wii Fit.

Common Sense Media, which funded the report, describes itself as "is a nonpartisan, nonprofit resource that helps families and educators teach kids how to be safe and smart in today's 24/7 media world."

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