Study: Media Responsible For Childhood Health, Safety Risks

Review was undertaken with the backing of Common Sense and the National Institutes of Health

A new "study of studies" lays partial blame for a number of childhood health and safety risks at the doorstep of the media, all kinds of media, and recommends policymakers restrict ads, promote media education, among other steps.

And that recommendation comes from a group of executives that includes a possible future FCC chairman or

communications policy czar.

The overwhelming majority of studies show that media exposure is bad for kids' health, from making them fatter to encouraging drug and alcohol and tobacco use, to hurting their grades. That is according to a review of 173 studies conducted since 1980 on the impact of media on children's health and development.

The review was undertaken with the backing of kids activist group Common Sense and the National Institutes of Health. It looked at what Common Sense characterized as "the best" studies, including evaluating them against each other for the relative strength of the findings.

One of Common Sense's advisory board members is Julius Genachowski, a college friend and advisor to Barack Obama who is currently helping shape the adminisration's approach to communications policy as a member of its tech transition team.

The study review was necessary, says Common sense, because kids spend 45 hours a week with media, while only 30 hours in school and 17 hours with their parents. Media was defined as movies, the Internet, video and computer games, magazines and music, though advertising, journalism, and public service announcements were exluded.

The exclusion of advertising seemed curious since one of the conclusions from the study was to restrict advertising.

The review concluded that since 1980, 80% of the 173 studies "concluded that increased media exposure was associated with a negative health outcome," with the greatest impact coming on childhood obesity, tobacco use and sexual behavior. In addition to those three, the studies looked at drug use, alchohol use, low academic achievement, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Only one study came up with a correlation between exposure to specific media and a positive outcome--for certain Web pages and better school performance--although seven studies found a correlation between media quantity and better health.

The study panel recommends that parents take a more active role in limiting, balancing and talking about media; that policymakers limit the ads, fund media literacy and fund more research; that the media better police their content, better educate families about it, encourage kids to limit their consumption, and create better educational media, and that schools adopt a media literacy curriculum that includes Internet safety.

The "expert panel" review of the studies (by the Yale University School of Medicine, NIH and the California Pacific Medial Center) comes as Democrats prepare to take over the White House as well as strengthened majorities in both houses of Congress.

This study and other recently-issued studies linking media and behavior could provide ammunition for newly empowered Democrats. That includes Jay Rockefeller, a strong critic of the media's impact on kids, who is taking over the Senate Commerce Committee; and Ed Markey (D-MA), a critic of snack food marketing to kids. Markey is already chairman of the powerful House Telecommunications Subcomittee, but could become even more powerful since new Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) is expected to defer more communications issues to Markey and focus more on energy issues.