Health Risk! Kids Watching Lots of TV and Playing with the Computer?

children-and-tv

Just a few more reasons to turn off (or at least limit) the TV

Dr. Robyn Silverman

A study has been released that shows that children who watch a lot of TV, play a lot of video games, and spend a lot of time surfing the web are more likely to be in for lots of health problems and compromising behaviors. Namely, obesity, smoking, and early sexual activity.

Who studied it? Researchers from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, Yale University and the California Pacific Medical Center worked together on this large-scale study.

What did they study? Sifting through 173 studies since 1980, these researchers analyzed how exposure to different media sources impacts the physical health of children and adolescents. This was one of the largest assessments in this area done to date.

What did they look at? These (mainly U.S.) studies, typically largely on TV. However, some also looked at the impact of video games, films, music, and computer and Internet use. Of these, 75% found that increased media viewing was correlated with negative health outcomes for children.

What was the major finding? Young people who are exposed to more media are more likely to become obese, start smoking and begin earlier sexual activity than their peers who spend less time in front of a screen. They also found statistical correlations with high media exposure and low academic achievement, drug use, and alcohol use.

“The fact that it was probably more a matter of quantity than actual content is also a concern. We have a media-saturated life right now in the 21st century. And reducing the number of hours of exposure is going to be a big issue.” — Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, NIH bioethicist

What’s this about early sexual activity and media exposure? In the study, a whopping 13 of 14 studies that evaluated sexual behavior in young people found an association between media exposure and earlier initiation of sexual behavior.

You may remember the recent RAND study that showed that teens who watch more sexually themed TV are more likely to have a higher risk of teen pregnancy.

What’s this about obesity and media exposure? There have been connections between obesity and media previously—we’ve heard explanations such as children tending to mindlessly eat (and eat high calorie food) in front of the TV. We’ve heard that children who are watching a lot of TV also are not outside running around or participating in some kind of physical activity. One study cited in this report found that children who spent more than eight hours watching TV per week at age 3 were more likely to be obese at 7 than their peers who watched less than 8 hours of TV per week. Research also shows that many U.S. children, even those at toddler age, watch far more than children elsewhere and far more than is recommended.

Let’s also not forget, that a lot of the hyper-sexualized (ultra-thin) media exposure has been linked to poor body image and pressure to grow up too fast in children and teens as well.

“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,” –Jim Steyer, the chief executive of Common Sense Media, financer of the study.

SO, what do you think? Do you agree with Mr. Steyer? Is there another problem here? Speak your mind!

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

picture: Jupiter

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3 Responses

  1. I agree with the study….too much TV is more than likely either going to cause obesity from lack of exercise or poor body image …..either way it’s not a good thing. A couple of other benefits to playing outside more… playing outside does inspire creativity or at least use of the imagination . I’m a second grade teacher and the other day I was outside with my class and two of my boys were crouched down staring intently at the ground. So I went over to see what was going on and they told me that they were Indiana Jones and they were looking for treasures. Another benefit to playing outside is that it teaches children how to play with others and to take turns and to follow the rules of a game.

  2. Yes, Angela- there are MANY reasons why playing outside and shutting off the TV are good ideas.

    We talked about some of the amazing benefits of getting outside and playing here and here.

    As a second grade teacher, you know how important it is to get the children out of the classroom “box” and get them out and about! Thank you for thinking creatively and allowing the children to do the same!

    Dr. Robyn

  3. I am so thrilled to see this post! On more than one occasion, people have tried to convince me that television and internet for young children is a GOOD thing. I suspect there are some positive scenarios; however, my personal (and professional) gut instinct tells me just what this article says – it’s not good!

    The more we can allow our kids the space to be creative and use their imagination, and at the same time get physical activity, the more our children will be healthier physically and emotionally. Thank you so much for posting this blog!

    Jennifer

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