Teresa Fuller M.D., Ph.D
“Literally, the average child now spends more time watching TV than attending school. This kind of electronic engagement has had a profound effect on kids’ behavior and the development of their brains.” Dr. Scott Shannon
The above quote by Dr. Shannon highlights the growing problem of children spending too much time with media. On average, children and teens are spending 7 hours per day with media. With Christmas just around the corner, people are lining up to purchase the latest media devices. Popular gift ideas include tablets, smart phones, video game consoles and laptops. But I’d like to recommend caution regarding the trend to make these the top gifted items for children.
Here are 3 reasons to reign in the media exposure for our children:
- Media contributes to overweight children. Media consumption is mostly a sedentary activity, and therefore a strong contributor to weight gain. In a recent study, it was found that children who consume media for more than 2 hours daily and who have less daily physical activity than recommended were 3 to 4 times more likely to be overweight. Media has another powerful way of helping put on the pounds, and that’s through advertising. Several very intriguing studies have looked at the food advertising during prime time, and during Saturday morning kids’ programming. The vast majority of food promoted on television contains low quality grains (i.e. mostly refined, low-fiber grains), a deficiency of many important minerals and vitamins such as calcium, magnesium and vitamin E, and high amounts of sugar and fat, promoting weight gain.
- Media causes behavior changes in children: multiple studies have shown that a) significant exposure to media violence increases aggressive behavior, desensitizes children to violence, and frightens them into believing that the world is more dangerous than it actually is, b) the highly sexualized content of media programming (usually neglecting to mention any negative consequences) may contribute to early sexual intercourse among teens, c) smoking and drinking alcohol are frequently shown in the media, often in a glamorized light. A recent meta-analysis estimated that “44% of all smoking initiation among children and young teenagers could be attributed to viewing smoking in movies.” Research is also showing that alcohol advertising is very effective in convincing teens to drink.
- Media also affects attention and school performance. An interesting study looked at the effects of certain types of programming on children’s executive function, that is their ability to plan, organize and control their behavior. The study showed that merely nine minutes of watching a fast-paced cartoon resulted in a significantly worse performance on executive functioning tasks compared to watching an educational cartoon or drawing. Another study showed that exposure to non-educational television before age three contributed to a significant increase in attention problems 5 years later.
Therefore, knowing these effects of media on children’s physical and mental health, let’s help our children use media judiciously. Limit media consumption to no more than 2 hours per day (and none for children under the age of two), and keep the televisions out of children’s bedrooms.
Batada, A., Seitz, M., Wootan, M., Story, M. Nine out of 10 Food Advertisements Shown During Saturday Morning Children’s Television Programming Are for Foods High in Fat, Sodium, or Added Sugars, or Low in Nutrients. Journal of the American Dietetic Association - Volume 108, Issue 4(April 2008)
Laurson,K., Eisenmann, J., Welk, G., Wickel, E., Gentile, D,Walsh, D Combined Influence Of Physical Activity And Screen Time Recommendations On Childhood Overweight. Journal of Pediatrics - Volume 153, Issue 2 (August 2008)
Lillard,A., Peterson, J. The immediate impact of different types of television on young children’s executive function. Pediatrics. 2011; 128: 644-649
Mink, M; Evans,A. Phd; Moore, C; Calderon, K., Deger, S. Nutritional Imbalance Endorsed By Televised Food Advertisements, Journal Of The American Dietetic Association - Volume 110, Issue 6 (June 2010)
Rettew, David. In this Issue/Abstract Thinking: Media and Children's Mental Health. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry- Volume 47, Issue 5 (May 2008)
Shannon, Scott. Please Don’t Label My Child. (2007) Rodale Press
Zimmerman, FJ and Chistakis, DA. Associations between content types of early media exposure and subsequent attentional problems. Pediatrics, Vol 120, No. 5, pp 986-992 (2007)
Teresa Fuller MD, PhD, is a holistic pediatrician at National Integrated Health Associates, NIHA, serving Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia. She is double board-certified in pediatrics and integrative, holistic medicine with a doctorate in physiology. Dr. Fuller is in a unique position to impact the health of children by identifying and correcting the underlying contributors of imbalance such as nutrient deficiencies, toxicities, infection and stresses, in order to restore your child’s health. Her focus is prevention of chronic illness and obesity in children and young adults, ADHD, asthma and allergies.