Media Bombardment Is Linked To Ill Effects During Childhood
According to this study, the
average modern child spends nearly 45 hours a
week with television, movies, magazines, music,
the Internet, cellphones and video games. I'm
surprised that they spend even 17 hours a week-
-a bit more than two hours a day--with their
By Donna St. George
In a detailed look at nearly 30 years of
research on how television, music, movies and
other media affect the lives of children and
adolescents, a new study released today found
an array of negative health effects linked to
The report found strong connections between
media exposure and problems of childhood
obesity and tobacco use. Nearly as strong was
the link to early sexual behavior.
Researchers from the National Institutes of
Health and Yale University said they were
surprised that so many studies pointed in the
same direction. In all, 173 research efforts,
going back to 1980, were analyzed, rated and
brought together in what the researchers said
was the first comprehensive view of the topic.
About 80 percent of the studies showed a link
between a negative health outcome and media
hours or content.
"We need to factor that in as we consider our
social policies and as parents think about how
they raise their kids," said lead researcher
Ezekiel J. Emanuel, director of the Department
of Bioethics at the National Institutes of
Health, which took on the project with the
nonprofit organization Common Sense Media. "We
tend not to think of this as a health issue,
and it is a health issue."
The average modern child spends nearly 45 hours
a week with television, movies, magazines,
music, the Internet, cellphones and video
games, the study reported. By comparison,
children spend 17 hours a week with their
parents on average and 30 hours a week in
school, the study said.
"Our kids are sponges, and we really need to
remember they learn from their environment,"
said coauthor Cary P. Gross, professor at Yale
School of Medicine. He said researchers found
it notable how much content mattered; it was
not only the sheer number of hours of screen
time. Children "pick up character traits and
behaviors" from those they watch or hear, he
Marcella Nunez-Smith, a lead author and also a
professor at the Yale School of Medicine,
described the project as a "mammoth"
undertaking that spanned more than 18 months.
In probing childhood obesity, for example,
researchers found 73 studies over the past
three decades, with 86 percent showing a
negative association with media exposure. The
studies most central to the analysis were large
high-quality efforts and controlled for other
Researchers are not interested in any sort of
censorship, Nunez-Smith said, but rather an
increased awareness among parents, teachers and
society at large. "It really is a wake-up
call," she said.
The study did not touch on issues of violence
and media, which researchers said was
systematically reviewed by others. Researchers
also excluded analysis of advertising or
marketing. Most studies used in the analysis,
as it turned out, focused on movies, music and
television. Researchers said a big gap was the
lack of research on the effects of the
Internet, cellphones, social-networking sites
and video games.
In their study, they rated as above average
evidence to support the link between media
exposure and drug use, alcohol use and low
academic achievement. Evidence was weaker for
the association with attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder. "It does not mean the
link is not there, but the research evidence
has not gotten there yet," Gross said.
The report's authors hope it will be taken to
heart by parents, as well as educators,
pediatricians and policymakers. They came up
with suggestions for each group, and James P.
Steyer, chief executive of Common Sense Media,
suggested that parents get involved in what
their children see, hear and play -- and for
"It's as important as going to their parent-
teacher conferences or going over their report
cards," Steyer said. "You have to know what
Facebook is, and YouTube and MySpace and
Twitter are, even though you grew up with
'Gilligan's Island' and 'All in the Family.' "
The new report was a systematic review of every
study since 1980 that met set scientific
criteria and examined media effects on obesity,
tobacco, drug and alcohol use, sexual behavior,
low academic achievement and ADHD.
Adam Thierer, a senior fellow at the market-
oriented think tank Progress and Freedom
Foundation, said it is important to recognize
that "correlation does not equal causation" in
research studies. He said he looked forward to
reading the studies that the report is based on
and was glad that there was no call for
Those involved in the project said they were
not opposed to children using media and noted
that several studies reached positive
conclusions, including one for adolescents who
used the Internet more frequently.
The issue, said Steyer, is: "How do we make
this the most positive experience it can be?
How do we get the most educational value . . .
and how do we limit the negative effects?"
Donna St. George
INDEX OF RESEARCH THAT COUNTS