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


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

The Weight of School Culture

I’m not sure how many of you know, but I’ve been studying girls, body image, confidence and success for quite a long time.  In fact, a good chunk of my work at Tufts University was on how girls feel they “fit in” to a culture that tends to sensationalize thinness and to reject people the more they deviate from the thin ideal. This cultural issue has a high cost. It isn’t only a problem because it creates a hotbed for eating disordered behavior and poor self worth, but also because it can cultivate social problems such as bullying, social rejection, and academic challenges.

A new study shows that a supportive, respectful peer culture, which makes children feel as though they “fit in” is just as important to a student’s success as high academic expectations.  Specifically, those students who were categorized as clinically “obese” were less likely to go to college than those students who were considered of medically “normal” weight. This finding was much more severe for girls than for boys.

Who did it? Robert Crosnoe, University of Texas, with colleague, Chandra Muller

You can have the best curriculum in the world, and if there’s something messed up in the culture, then you set out to fail…anytime you put 1,000 kids together, you’re creating a culture. (Crosnoe)

Where was it published? July issue of Sociology of Education

Where did the data come from? Crosnoe used data collected on nearly 11,000 teens from 128 schools from around the U.S. as part of the ongoing National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, the largest and most comprehensive survey of health-related behavior among teens between 7th and 12th grade, which started in 1994.

What did he find?

Teens who were categorized as “obese” tended to have to cope with more social isolation.

They were less likely to go to college or take advanced math and science classes even though their peers were doing so. (Crosnoe)

Gender Issues

Girls who were considered obese were less likely to attend college than thin girls.

“The more it makes you stand out from the crowd, the worse it is,” says Crosnoe.

  • How do I measure up? Girls are more likely to compare themselves to their female classmates and peers around them than are boys. Because body appearance is more central to girls’ self-concept than to boys’, it’s likely that this gender difference implies that weight has a more powerful effect on the lives of girls and their academic careers.
  • Fitting in and Standing Out: In school cultures in which students were less likely to be considered clinically obese and overweight, 61% of “obese” girls didn’t continue school.  However, in a school in which at least 1/3 of students were indeed considered medically obese, only 17% of “obese” girls did not go on.

“Your school and your culture affects how you view academics and your future.  Social ups and downs are a big distraction…many of the kids said it’s hard to sit and do your homework when you’re worried about what will happen in school the next day.” (Crosnoe)

Beating the Odds: Resilient Kids

  • How did some socially isolated students do well despite their social problems?  Key characteristics: very supportive parents, at least one good friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend, and finding a niche in an extracurricular activity.

Again, it’s underscored: Enrolling your child in a positive extracurricular activity where character, confidence, connection, individual competence, caring and compassion are stressed, such as in an academy that is using Powerful Words Character Development, is more important than ever.  Children who may not be socially thriving in school can still be extremely successful if they receive the support, education, and chance to succeed in an extracurricular activity like martial arts, gymnastics, swimming, dance, cheer, or other powerful after-school opportunity.  Parents who need a recommendation, please contact our team.

How did you fit into your school culture?  How has your child found his or her place within the school culture?  How do you see a powerful extracurricular helping this situation? Please share your “secrets” so we can spread the ideas to all those who can use them!

Please comment below.

Have a Powerful Day!

ADHD Can Increase Obesity & Overweight in Children, Study Says

ADHD and Weight in Children…and other facts about ADHD in kids

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

Given the “war on obesity” and the increasing number of children being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the results of a recent study is a real double whammy. According the July issue of Pediatrics, children with ADHD have a 50% higher risk of being medically overweight if they are not taking medication for their condition. Interestingly, those who were taking their medication were much more likely to be underweight.

The Study:

  • Who was studied? 63,000 children and teens between the ages of 5 and 17 years old. The data came from the 2003-2004 U.S. National Survey of Children’s Health.
  • Where were they studied? Brown Medical School in Providence, Rhode Island.
  • By Whom? Molly E. Waring and Kate L. Lapane, researchers from the department of community health.
  • Interesting Fact: 1 in 5 children with ADHD are said to be clinically overweight.
  • Why we need to be careful: On the one side, we need to make sure that one problem does not beget another, such that a problem with focus also connects to a problem with health, but on the other hand, we need to make sure that we don’t make our children “scale” obsessed and give them body image issues on top of everything else! We know from other studies that girls who weigh themselves often are more likely than other girls to engage in unhealthy dieting and go up and down in weight. The girls who are most scale-obsessed, according to a 2006 study out of the University of Minnesota, tend to skip meals, use diet pills, abuse laxatives, smoke, binge, and vomit to lose weight. Help your children stay healthy, but don’t allow them to get crazy about weight.

Arguments against these findings:

(1) Some researchers believe that because the diagnosis of obesity in children and the diagnosis for ADHD are widespread, you can’t say that the overlap is due to a cause-and-effect connection rather than just coincidence.

(2) Some researchers agree that there is a connection and this is nothing new.

(3) Some researchers believe that there is a connection but we don’t know about any cause-and-effect link. In other words, we can’t say that ADHD CAUSES obesity and overweight nor can we say that obesity and overweight CAUSES ADHD.

Facts about ADHD

  • It’s estimated that between 3 and 5 percent of children have ADHD. In the United States, that equals approximately 2 million children.
  • The top characteristics of ADHD are inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
  • Symptoms: Fidgeting, squirming, trouble listening, difficulty playing quietly, said to talk a lot and often, often interrupt or intrude impulsively, easily distracted, lack focus, difficulty finishing tasks.
  • Symptoms appear early in the child’s life—but since ALL young children tend to fidget and become impulsive to a degree, it’s important to see a physician for confirmation of diagnosis.
  • Disorders that can sometimes go along with ADHD: Learning disabilities, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Tourette Syndrome, Conduct Disorder, Bipolar Disorder.

Some Possible Treatment Options for ADHD:

(1) Medication

(2) Behavioral Modification

(3) A combination of both Medication and Behavior Modification

(4) Psychotherapy

(5) Social Skills Training

(6) ADHD coach for child

(7) Counseling

(8 ) EEG Biofeedback

(9) ADHD Diet

(10) Alternative Medicine

Have a child or know a child with ADHD? What are your thoughts on the July Pediatrics study? Do you find any challenges with ADHD and the weight of your child? What has worked for you?

Looking forward to hearing from you-

Cartoon above found here

Fast and Furious: Is the “Quick” and “Convenient” Food Offered at Your Children’s School Killing them?

As we’ve covered in the past, A 2001 Harvard School of Public Health study found that for each soda or juice drink a child drinks a day, the child’s odds of becoming overweight increase 1.6 times.

Two angry Moms, Amy Kalafa and Susan Rubin, would be horrified. With their documentary, they’ve been trying to make headway with the schools with regard to changing their food plans and vending machines over to providing healthier options.

There are some success stories but as highlighted by the Washington Post this morning, there are also many schools that are failing or flailing as they try to balance what children want, what is feasible within their budgets, and what is actually good for the children and teens to consume.

Consequently, many teens are not making healthy choices.

Flores smooths her bills against the machine and tries once more. Out falls her meal — 530 calories and 25 grams of fat, or French Onion Sun Chips and Linden’s big fudge chip cookies. Ka-ching. Ka-ching. Ka-ching.

“I wouldn’t call it lunch,” she said as she gathered her change of 75 cents. “I know it’s not healthy, but it’s not like they’re selling fruits.”

So while the airwaves are flooded with people crying “obesity!” and “unhealthy children!” and many of our children are suffering from poor body image since we’re stressing dieting and appearance over eating healthy foods and exercising, here many of our school stand, providing sub par food choices to our children. So much for feeding the mind and bodies of our kids. Vending machines may be considered the enemy, but they are our children’s schoolmates for about 8 or more hours everyday.

To students, the machines are often an alternative to long lunch lines and sometimes unappetizing food.

We’ve done such a poor job for so long that schools feel that they must “phase in” good foods slowly so not to “shock” the children.

Bladensburg’s vending machines are more healthful than most, and fewer than half the school’s 2,100 students buy snacks and sodas from the machines on a typical day. Rice Krispies Treats (150 calories, 3.5 grams of fat) are an improvement from Snickers bars (280 calories, 14 grams of fat). Baked chips have replaced fried.

Yes. But can we call it lunch? And while Rice Krispy Treats are “better” where is the nutrition? I mean, it’s seems like where comparing unfiltered cigarettes to filtered ones—one might not be as bad but they’re still all bad for you.

Problems kids are citing that lead them to the vending machines:

(1) Long lunch lines

(2) Unappetizing lunch options

(3) Lunch is too close to breakfast (often just an hour and a half after the kids arrive)

What about “cheaper?”


For a $1.85 school lunch, these students could gobble up pizza, collard greens, fresh fruit and calcium-fortified juice. Instead, many are spending $2 to $3 on vending goods.

Chef Anne Cooper, famous “lunch lady” revolutionizing school lunch in Berkley, California (and sister to Powerful Words Mom and friend, Ruth Cooper and Aunt to Powerful Words student Abby!), recommends:

  • Children ages 6-9 should aim for 4-7 servings daily
  • Children ages 10-14 should aim for 5-8 servings daily
  • Teens ages 14-18 should aim for 6-9 servings daily

And no, the Rice Krispy Treats DO NOT constitute a whole grain!

As well as:

  • 4-9 servings daily of veggies
  • 3-5 servings daily of fruits
  • 2-3 servings daily of calcium-rich foods/drinks
  • 2-3 servings daily of lean proteins
  • 3-4 servings daily of healthy fats
  • 2-3 servings per week of red meat at most due to it’s high saturated fat
  • Added sugars and fats should be eaten rarely
  • 8 glasses of water

So what are we fighting against?

Top Vending Machine Sales, according to Automatic Merchandiser

1. Snickers

2. Doritos Big Grab

3. Peanut M&Ms

4. Cheetos Crunchy

5. Cheez-It Original

Read the full list.

So what are we supposed to do?

We can’t get the manufacturers to stop making the junk food. And in our rush-around lifestyle, we still need convenience.

(1) We can educate our schools and form a committee to help choose good foods for your children’s schools

(2) We can screen the movie “Two Angry Moms” in your area to educate the community. Yes, you can too! Powerful Parent Media Expert and Correspondant, Amy Jussel of Shaping Youth, is doing just that in San Francisco!

(3) Get your children into after-school programs that provide exercise. Powerful Words schools have excellent physical programs. If you need a recommendation of a school near you, please contact us.

(4) Brainstorm new options that provide healthy options for the children in fun, creative, and modern ways.

According to an interview with Risa Lavisso- Mourey, President and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (an organization devoted to healthcare in America):

I’m not in favor of going back to the 50s or 60s. We’re not going to solve this problem by taking a “retro-view” We’ve got to find 21st century solutions to how you can re-engineer activity back into the very busy schedules we all have—re-engineer making healthy choices and eating healthy and being able to do it in a quick, accessible way that fits the environment and lifestyles that people have now. Risa Lavisso- Mourey

She would like to see a society in which:

(1) Restaurants allow you to see the nutritional information with regard to what you’re choosing to put into your body. Nutritional information should be available, accessible, and displayed readily.

(2) Schools guarantee healthy, nutritional guidelines are met for breakfast, lunch, and after-school.

(3) Exercise is encouraged and engaged in everyday. Providing creative ways for children to have 30-60 minutes of physical activity everyday is essential in schools and after school programs.

As adults, we are the ones who create the environment for our kids. We do have a moral and ethical responsibility to make sure it’s as good or an environment as we know how to create.

–Risa Lavisso- Mourey

Would you like to see Risa Lavisso- Mourey’s complete 5 minute interview? See it here.

Let’s hear it from the boy:

Noah Horn, age 12, didn’t care about eating healthy or exercising until his father dies of a massive heart attack when Noah was in kindergarten. Noah connects his father’s sudden death to his unhealthy lifestyle, weight, diet, and lack of exercise. Amazingly, Noah made a conscious decision not to follow in his father’s footsteps—a path he had been taking until his father’s unexpected passing.

He tells the Washington Post:

“If I’m not exercising or eating the right foods, then I might end of like him. I might get heart disease, have a heart attack and die. So after that I decided to eating healthy and exercising more.

He made small switches:

(1) Ritz crackers to… wheat crackers

(2) Ice-cream to… frozen yogurt or sherbert

(3) Deep fried chicken to…”regular” baked chicken

(4) Almost no exercise to…trying to exercise everyday (even if just walking)

While Noah still needs to work on his cholesterol and he understands why eating foods with a lot of cholesterol is unhealthy and can be life threatening, as with his father. But a very high price needed to be paid.

“I’m not glad that he died but I am glad in a way because if he didn’t die then I wouldn’t be healthy.”

And while you might be pondering if Noah feels like his choices have been taken from him or he is no longer in control, hear this:

What makes Noah feel powerful?

“It makes me feel powerful that I’m winning over the bad cholesterol. I’m the winner over not exercising and eating bad foods. I am the winner. It makes me feel very powerful.”

It’s time to make some switches. Get your children on board and discuss some changes, even small ones that you can make today. What’s one thing that your children and your family can do today that could make a difference? Our children’s future is dependent upon it.

Note: For more great information on this specific topic, check out Shaping Youth’s article, featuring additional research and a helpful interview with YoNaturals.

Everyone Inside! Texting and Threat of Mulch Wars Keeps Kids off Playground at ChildCare

No Playground for Kids in Child Care: Why More Kids are Staying Inside

Flip flops. No coat. The threat of Mulch Wars.

According to the New York Times, these are just some of the surprising reasons why some children are banned from the playground, as found in a new study on children’s physical activity out of Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

“It’s things we never expected, from flip flops, mulch near the playground, children who come to child care without a coat on chilly days, to teachers talking or texting on cell phones while they were supposed to be supervising the children,” –Kristen Copeland, M.D., lead author of the study, funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

The Problem:

With the threat of more children leading a sedentary lifestyle due to more exposure to video games, TV, and the internet, (not to mention the overemphasis on high stakes testing and the negation of recess and gym in many schools) it’s concerning that children are spending more time indoors, even during allocated free-time or recess.

Lack of physical activity can lead to many health problems. In addition, as we discussed yesterday, children who don’t spend enough time playing outdoors can be deprived of important social interactions and natural stimulation that can aid in positive youth development.

The contemporary decline in children’s physical fitness and the rapidly growing incidence of childhood obesity and related diseases are prompting a new look at the role of active outdoor play in enhancing children’s development, fitness, and health. The Developmental Benefits of Playgrounds, by Joe L. Frost, Pei-San Brown, John A. Sutterby, and Candra D. Thornton

The Stats:

  • More than ½ of American children, ages 3-6 years old spend some time in child care centers or preschools
  • Studies have shown that children who play outside for about 90 minutes each day in good weather have a lower risk of heart trouble later in life.
  • Outside play is great for children’s physical, emotional, social, and cognitive development
  • About 74% of US children aged 3-6 years are in some form of non-parental child care.
  • Outdoor environments are important to children’s development of independence and autonomy (Bartlett 1996).
  • Play in outdoor environments stimulates all aspects of children development more readily than indoor environments (Moore & Wong 1997).
  • Professor Lamine Mahdjoubi, of the University of the West of England (UWE), said a lack of outdoor exercise causes heart problems and diabetes.

The Study:

The staff from 34 child care centers in the Cincinnati area were surveyed to learn about how children spend their time in day care and to determine some of the reasons why the children may or may not be spending time outside.

They conducted focus groups with 49 staff members in total. Centers included Montessori, Head Start and centers in the inner city and suburban areas.


Inappropriate clothing or footware: Some children were coming to daycare in flip flops and no coat on a chilly day. In some child care centers, it only takes one child who is dressed inappropriately to keep the entire group inside.

Parent sabotage: The researchers reported that, according to some child-care staff, some parents intentionally sent their child to class without a coat or with the wrong footware. Staff attributed this parental sabotage to concerns about the child getting dirty, having a cold, or not wanting their child to go outside.

More work, less play: Staff also cited that they felt pressure from parents to keep the children’s attention on cognitive development through reading and writing rather than on gross motor and socio-emotional skills that children often learn on the playground.

Mulch: Aside from staff concerns about mulch getting into the children’s shoes, the mulch that surrounded many playgrounds was not being used properly.

“Many said that the kids eat the mulch, or use it as weapons, or it gets caught in their shoes. It also requires constant upkeep. It’s certainly not something that we had anticipated as an issue, but judging by the amount of and intensity of the discussions among child care teachers, it really is.” –Kristen Copeland, M.D.

Distracted Teachers: Instead of supervising and interacting with the children, some staff reported that teachers were talking or texting on cell phones while the children were on the playground.

Not a fan of the outdoors: If the staff member was not a “cold-weather person,” or she believes it’s too much work to bundle and unbundled the children, children may not get out onto the playground.

Feeling Fat: Some child care workers reported that feeling that they were overweight kept them from encouraging children’s physical activity.

What do you think? Valid or invalid? What’s your experience with child care facilities and outdoor play?

Tune in tomorrow so we can continue this discussion…