By Kathleen Gilbert

SAN FRANCISCO, California, December 3, 2008 ( – Children who spend too much time watching television, playing video games, and surfing the Internet are at an increased risk for a plethora of health problems, concludes a survey of several studies published today.

The advocacy group Common Sense Media published the findings after scrutinizing 173 studies since 1980 that offered data on the effects of television, video games, Internet, films, music, and cell phones on children.  The review found that 80% of the studies showed that greater exposure to such media was linked to various health problems, particularly childhood obesity. 

Data also pointed to an increased risk factor for smoking, drug and alcohol abuse, poor school performance, and early sexual activity in children and teens with higher media exposure.  The survey was conducted by Yale University School of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, and California Pacific Medical Center.

“This review is the first ever comprehensive evaluation of the many ways that media impacts children’s physical health,” said Ezekiel J. Emanuel, M.D., Ph.D., National Institutes of Health and lead researcher on the study. “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.”

Emanuel said in a Reuters interview that he found the results surprisingly clear on the detrimental effects of too much media, and expressed concern over the fact that many of the health problems were “probably more a matter of quantity than actual content,” something that parents will find difficult to rein in amid the “media-saturated” lifestyle of modern America.

One study cited showed that children at the age of three are more likely to be obese by the age of seven if they watch more than eight hours of television a week. Research shows, however, that American children, including toddlers, usually watch far more than eight hours a week. 

The study reports that the average American child spends nearly forty-five hours every week with media, including television, movies, magazines, music, the Internet, cellphones and video games. By comparison, the report says seventeen hours a week are spent with parents, and thirty hours a week in school.

James P. Steyer, Common Sense Media founder and CEO, urged parents and educators to “consider the effects of media” as a key component of protecting children’s health in light of the survey’s findings. 

“This report makes is clear that we need a bold new agenda on media and technology use,” said Steyer.  “We hope this report will create a new sense of urgency in that regard.”

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