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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Report Ties Children’s Use of Media to Their Health

 Report Ties Children's Use of Media to Their Health 

Report Ties Children's Use of Media to Their Health

Published: December 1, 2008

The National Institutes of Health and a nonprofit advocacy group, Common Sense Media, have another reason for President-elect Barack Obama to keep urging parents to "turn off the TV."

In what researchers call the first report of its kind, a review of 173 studies about the effects of media consumption on children asserts that a strong correlation exists between greater exposure and adverse health outcomes.

"Coach potato does, unfortunately, sum it up pretty well," said Ezekiel J. Emanuel, chairman of the bioethics department at the institutes' clinical center, one of the study's five reviewers.

The report should compel lawmakers to underwrite media education efforts and public service advertising campaigns and should motivate the entertainment industry to be more "responsible and responsive," said Jim Steyer, the chief executive of Common Sense Media, which helped to finance the study.

"The research is clear that exposure to media has a variety of negative health impacts on children and teens," he said.

Dr. Emanuel, Mr. Steyer and others plan to brief Washington policy makers on the study on Tuesday. Joined by researchers at Yale University and California Pacific Medical Center, Dr. Emanuel's team analyzed almost 1,800 studies conducted since 1980 and identified 173 that met the criteria the researchers set.

In a clear majority of those studies more time with television, films, video games, magazines, music and the Internet was linked to rises in childhood obesity, tobacco useand sexual behavior. A majority also showed strong correlations — what the researchers deemed "statistically significant associations" — with drug and alcohol use and low academic achievement.

The evidence was somewhat less indicative of a relationship between media exposure and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, the seventh health outcome that was studied.

Dr. Emanuel, whose brother, Rahm, is the president-elect's chief of staff, said he was surprised by how lopsided the findings were. "We found very few studies that had any positive association" for children's health, he said.

Researchers sought to look at the health effects of a wide array of media and distill 30 years of research into a simple message. "The average parent doesn't understand that if you plop your kids down in front of the TV or the computer for five hours a day, it can change their brain development, it can make them fat, and it can lead them to get involved in risky sexual activity at a young age," Mr. Steyer said.

Acknowledging that socioeconomic status and other factors can affect children's health, Dr. Emanuel said the researchers chose studies that controlled for outside variables and ranked the strength of evidence accordingly.

Mr. Steyer said he was surprised to find an absence of research into the impact of new technologies. "Media has evolved at a dizzying pace, but there's almost no research aboutFacebook, MySpace, cellphones, et cetera," he said.

His organization, which was founded in 2003 and provides family-oriented reviews and ratings of Web sites, television shows and video games, intends to push for more research into the media's effects on children and the setting of limits on advertising to children.

Mr. Obama has shown interest in the subject, telling parents to "turn off the television set and put the video games away" in speeches and running a commercial during the campaign, "Turn It Off," that focused on education.

While Dr. Emanuel wouldn't say if the study was a subject at Thanksgiving dinner with his brother, he said that more research into media's effects on children's health was necessary.

"We have to be concerned about what's on TV, but we also have to be concerned about how much of the day kids are actually interacting with TV and other media," he said.


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Personal Web site for John C Kim: KIDDOC.ORG

I am a pediatrician specializing in General Pediatrics, International Adoption Medicine, and in the diagnosis and coaching of families pursuing joy.