A Serving of Research Leftovers

In the process of looking for new topics about media and how it affects families, I often come across little tidbits of information that aren’t quite enough to fill up a complete page, but are still interesting for parents to know about. So this week, I’m serving up some "leftover" European research about television viewing which, all put together, should be able to provide you with a square serving of media information. But beware, one person’s research is another’s refuse, so carefully pick and choose what you believe to be true!

TV is Blamed for Speeding Up Puberty

No, it’s not your imagination. It’s a statistical fact that kids are reaching puberty younger than ever. While I’ve heard many explanations, most centering around our abundant food supply, steroids, and other additives, here’s a new cause: TV. In a study released in 2004, Italian researchers in the town of Cavriglia gained the cooperation of 75 children (with help from their parents) to deny them access to television, video games and computers. Instead, the kids were provided with other games, reading programs and activities during the seven-day experiment.

After the week was over, it is reported that researchers saw a 30% jump in the children’s melatonin levels, a hormone that is supposed to delay the onset of puberty, making this the first study to possibly prove a physiological connection between television watching and children.

Why did it happen? The researchers think the light and radiation from the screens may have something to do with it.

Too Much TV May Impair Language Development

The National Literacy Trust in the UK suggested in 2004 that high quality educational programming, in moderation, can improve comprehension and language. However, when children are exposed to adult oriented television, the findings suggest it can slow down a child’s development.

Especially for children less than two years of age, the complex narratives and typically fast paced editing and on-screen action of television shows made for older viewers may be the cause of future language difficulties for infants and toddlers. The report also noted that young children often watch these types of programs with their parents. Televisions in children’s bedrooms is also a factor, with this study indicating a nearly unbelievable third of all children under the age of four in the UK have a telly by their bedside.

Children Becoming "Old Before Their Time"

In some ways, this is a different take on the early puberty study noted above. Also from the UK, University of Glasgow researchers found many three year olds only exercise for 25 minutes a day, which is half the recommended time.

The researchers strapped a motion sensitive device to the children’s wrists and also measured the time it took for an energy drink to appear in their urine—both of these would be an indicator of physical activity.

Summarizing the research, Dr. John Reilly of the university’s Division of Developmental Medicine says, "Something we show is that children, well before they go to school, are as inactive as many office workers. They are old before their time."

What does he blame the inactivity on? Viewing television.

Telly Belly?

This item from the BBC shows just how influential television can be. In a 2002 article, the BBC says British doctors are seeing an onslaught of patients who, after watching a TV news health item or seeing a soap opera involving a sick patient, show up in doctors’ offices convinced they are suffering from the same malady. The "virus" has left nine out of ten doctors—according to a survey for Norwich Union Healthcare—to believe media coverage affects patients.

They feel the crux of the problem is the TV programs leave patients feeling confident with their self-diagnosis—even though only one in four are correct most of the time. They also found women were better at correctly identifying their illnesses than were men.

TV Can Make You Healthy… If You Watch the Right Programs

Another BBC item demonstrates the reverse side of "Telly Belly." In 1999, the British network ran a "Fighting Fit, Fighting Fat" campaign that attracted 7 million viewers. Researchers studied 2,000 regular viewers, and more than 50% reported a loss of weight by the end of the series and an unreported percentage said they were exercising more and eating better.

For the Men: The Benefits of Sports on TV

Last but not least, here’s one many women will want to delete. A 2002 study by the London School of Economics says television can be psychologically beneficial when it is used as a (quoting Dr. Darrin Hodgetts) "ritualistic meeting place to share thoughts and feelings."

The good doctor specifically mentions how men’s psychological health can benefit from meeting and sharing feelings while watching sports. "Watching television can reinforce men’s social networks," says Dr. Hodgetts.

Hopefully he has a few good friends with comfortable sofas…

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