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Childhood Obesity, Smoking, and Sexual Activity Linked to Media Exposure

A new study by Yale University School of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, and California Pacific Medical Center finds that exposure to media damages children’s long-term health.


80% of the studies reviewed link greater exposure to media with negative health effects for kids and adolescents.[social_buttons]

Common Sense Media published the report, Media and Child and Adolescent Health: A Systematic Review, which reviewed 173 of the best studies from the last 30 years which examine the connection between media exposure and negative health effects on children.

The average modern child spends nearly 45 hours a week with television, movies, magazines, music, the Internet, cellphones and video games, the study reported. By comparison, children spend 17 hours a week with their parents on average and 30 hours a week in school, the study said.

“This review is the first ever comprehensive evaluation of the many ways that media impacts children’s physical health. The results clearly show that there is a strong correlation between media exposure and long-term negative health effects to children. This study provides an important jumping-off point for future research that should explore both the effects of traditional media content and that of digital media –– such as video games, the Internet, and cell phones –– which kids are using today with more frequency.” – Ezekiel J. Emanuel, M.D., Ph.D., National Institutes of Health

Seven different health outcomes were analyzed: attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity (ADDH), obesity, low academic achievement, tobacco use, drug use, alcohol use, and sexual behavior.

Studies on all types of media (including television, movies, internet, video games, magazines and music) were searched for, but most of the quality studies found involved television, movies and music. Fewer studies were available that examined the impact of internet and video games, and there were no studies found on the impact of cell phones.

The strongest connection was found between the amount of TV watching and childhood obesity:

  • 86% of these studies found a statistically significant relationship between increased media exposure and an increase in childhood obesity.
  • 82% of studies concluded that more hours of media predicted increased weight over time.
  • A longitudinal study of 5,493 children reported that those who spent more than eight hours watching TV per week at age three were significantly more likely to be obese at age seven.

“Media is increasingly pervasive in the lives of children and adolescents. Parents and educators must consider the effects of media when they’re trying to address issues with their child’s health. This report makes it clear that we need a bold new agenda on media and technology use. We hope this report will create a new sense of urgency in that regard.”- James P. Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media

The study makes some recommendations about kids and media exposure:

  • Limit the amount of time kids use media. Monitor their use, and explain to them why too much
    time in front of a screen is harmful.
  • Take kids outside to play. Encourage them to spend more time playing instead of watching – and playing real games instead of virtual ones.
  • Teach kids to be smart media users. Schools can help children – and parents – learn simple ways to manage the media in their lives, and to balance media use with more healthy activities.
  • Bring back physical education. Sports and physical activities are an important part of kids physical and social development, and school is a great opportunity for kids to learn more about saying healthy.
  • For policymakers: Encourage more research on media and kids. Establish limits on advertising of junk food to kids. Develop public service advertising campaigns that encourage healthy habits.

Download the Executive Summary of the report and read it for yourself, then start a “media diet” for your family.

The healthiest thing you can do for your kids (and yourself) might be to trash the TV!

Image: Aaron Escobar at Flickr under Creative Commons License


  1. Correlation is not causation. Let me repeat that, correlation is not causation. If all you remember form this is correlation is not causation then you have learned a valuable life lesson that will help you and your children for the rest of your lives. Correlation means two things are commonly found together. Like hot dogs and hotdog buns, or Halloween and Fall. Causation means one of the things causes the other. Like flipping a switch to turn on the lights, or heating up water to make it boil. The first is correlation the second causation. Two things can have a strong correlation with out either being the cause. When two things are found to have a strong correlation often, but not necessarily, there’s some third thing casing both of them. For example nuts found on airplanes correlates very strongly with stewardess found on those very same planes. Were you find one you often find the other. Yet despite this strong correlation no one thinks nuts cause the stewardess to be on the plain. That’s because we all know the third player in all this, the cause of both the nuts and the stewardess, airplane companies. So let me repeat: correlation is not causation.

    For this article to imply that its been scientifically shown that watching too much TV makes kids fat is a gooey globing spit in the face of decency made all the worse by using quotes clearly stating that a correlation was found thereby implying, to those of us lacking a degree in Mathematics, that a cause was found. As the quotes show no cause was found only correlation. It could be watching to much TV makes kids fat, or it could be that being fat makes kids watch more TV, or even that the modern American food supply is toxic, making the kids fat and sedentary. We just don’t know and from what little information we can get form this article, we can’t guess. And because finding the cause was never the point of these studies, going around saying that we do know is just a big fat lie.

    The author is either very well meaning or dangerously ignorant, or a manipulative ideologue with a dangerous disregard for the health and well-being of my children bordering on the mentally challenged. In ether case this site should disassociate its self from this article as fast and as furiously as it can.

  2. I wonder how much of it has to do with the lack of exercise and how much has to do with the aggressive marketing of junk food and soft drinks during children’s programming. I’d bet it’s balanced a lot more towards the latter than people would think.

  3. I’m sorry, but this is complete baloney. First of all, if none of the surveys surveyed said anything about cellphones, then including them in your list is nothing less than misleading. Also, things like this are completely within the scope of parents doing their jobs right. I’m sure I spent at least 45 hours a week with television, movies, music, and video games for a lot of my childhood. I spend at least that much with music alone now. But because my parents actually brought me up well, I’m 0 for 7 in that list of health outcomes. Speaking of which, since when is sexual behavior a health problem and not a natural consequence of biology?

  4. It took a scientific study to figure out that sitting on ones ass causes one to gain to much weight? How about using common sense and spending the money and time on something useful, like how to cure cancer or something.

  5. While Frederick is correct that correlation is not causation, it does indicate a relationship. To dismiss it as a ‘lie’ is a foolish comment. Most people – like Tyler – tend to dismiss research findings by arguing an exception, rather than seeking to understand the implication of the broader relationship. A correlation, when found, should cause a person to consider the likelihood of causation. It seems to me that common sense would cause most people to realize that it is highly unlikely that more time spent watching television (and presumably less time doing other, less sedentary activities) would lead a child to be physically healthier.

  6. I am a certified physical education teacher who recently developed a program to help combat childhood obesity. In my profession, I view first hand how this epidemic affects my students. This prompted me to create a program called Edu-fitt, an education and fitness program to decrease childhood obesity and increase student achievement in core subject areas. I invite you to visit my website http://www.getfitwithcoachsmith.com

  7. patrick miller says:

    Fredrick, you’re the one who’s looking ignorant.

  8. Changing the boring classroom setting into a fun way of learning. Edu-Fitt is being used all over South Florida schools to help brighten up the boring classroom style of teaching.

  9. exposure to media?No,I don’t want my child to do such things

  10. “For example nuts found on airplanes correlates very strongly with stewardess found on those very same planes. Were you find one you often find the other. Yet despite this strong correlation no one thinks nuts cause the stewardess to be on the plain. ”

    This analogy is illogically applied to the article. Rather, the proper analogy is that there are nuts found in the plane and its likely that the flight attendant distributed them.


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