Media-Not Just a Body Image Problem- A Health Risk Too


Media Exposure Causing All Sorts of Problems for Children

Dr. Robyn Silverman

Well, we knew it was a problem for our kids to be exposed to too much TV– we’ve heard it associated with  poor body image and pressure to grow up too fast in previous articles.

Now– more problems. 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. In particular; obesity, smoking, and early sexual activity– among others.

Who? The researchers from U.S. National Institutes of Health, the California Pacific Medical Center, and Yale University worked together on this study.

What was studied? Going through 173 studies since 1980, the researchers looked at how exposure to a variety of 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 the researchers 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 were the indings? 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.” — NIH bioethicist, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel

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.

Do you 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? So we must have seen this one coming.

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 toddlers, were said to watch far more than children elsewhere and far more than is recommended.

“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.

Speak your mind! Tell us what you think!

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

picture: Jupiter Images


2 Responses

  1. Just wanted to send you all some links to films about body image, media, and health. They are up on a new page:

    Keep up the good work!!

    Independent Filmmaker
    New Day Films

  2. I am doing a presentation about body image relating to media. Could it be possible to get a copy of your study. Th presentation is for a group called Snowball. It is a preventative program aimed at preventing harmful descisions.

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