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Slate Misleading Parents and the Public

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Slate Misleading Parents and the Public

Slate recently published an article called “Are TV and Video Games Making Kids Fat?”

The author, Darshak Sanghavi argues that no, TV and Video Games do not make kids fat. According to Sanghavi:

“If video games aren’t the problem, then what about television? We’ve know for a long time that attempts to reduce television-watching among children have a limited effect on their body weight. For a 1999 paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers gave a group of third- and fourth-graders in California regular lessons on the dangers of excessive television. Their parents were asked to enforce time budgets (using a device to limit total screen time) and participate in television turnoffs lasting 10 days, among other projects. This very involved, two-month intervention halved television watching among participants. Eight months later, researchers measured the children’s heights and weights, and compared them to those taken from children at a school without a similar program. The drastic reduction in television-watching made for only a very modest difference: Weight gains in the experimental group were reduced by an average of only one pound.”

But 8 to 10-year-olds are still growing. Just purely from growth they would be expected to gain weight. That is why the researchers, who did this study, did not use weight as their main metric. From the link that Sanghavi provided, this is how the researchers described their results:

Journal of the American Medical Association 1999

“Results: Compared with controls, children in the intervention group had statistically significant relative decreases in body mass index… , triceps skinfold thickness… , waist circumference… , and waist-to-hip ratio… . Relative to controls, intervention group changes were accompanied by statistically significant decreases in children’s reported television viewing and meals eaten in front of the television. There were no statistically significant differences between groups for changes in high-fat food intake, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, and cardiorespiratory fitness.”

Conclusions: Reducing television, videotape, and video game use may be a promising, population-based approach to prevent childhood obesity.”

Sanghavi also argues that:

“It’s also not necessarily the case that increasing screen time will lead a child to gain weight: Between 1999 and 2010, screen time among kids jumped by more than two hours per day, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Yet childhood obesity rates remained relatively stable over the same period.”

But TV viewing did not increase by over two hours per day over that period. If it turns out that TV is the main driver of our obesity epidemic, then that would explain why obesity rates did not greatly increase during that 20 year period (when gaming and internet increased a lot, while TV viewing increased only a little bit).

It could very well be that gaming and the internet are being incorrectly blamed for the obesity epidemic. Definitely more studies need to be done. Personally, I would like to see more studies looking at the effects of only reducing TV time or only reducing other forms of screen-time to find out once and for all if only one or the other is the culprit, or if, indeed, they are both the culprit. Another issue is all the TV ads for junk food. Could cutting out all junk food commercials (without reducing TV-time) reduce BMI? This is another avenue worth pursuing.

Sanghavi also conveniently fails to mention that there have been a number of studies looking at the effects on BMI of cutting back on screen-time:

Telegraph 2008

“However, at the end of the two years scientists found that the limited group weighed on average 10 per cent less than those who could view as much television as they wanted.”

Science Daily 2009

“Reducing TV Time Helps Adults Burn More Calories, Study Finds”

Health Psychology 1995

“The results of the study, published in Health Psychology in 1995, showed that the children who were reinforced for being less sedentary-e.g., less television and less computer games-had a bigger weight loss than the children who were reinforced for increasing their physical activity.”

This is not the first time Slate has published pro-TV claptrap:

The Benefits of Bozo

and my critic of the aptly named “The Benefits of Bozo”

Common Dreams has an excellent article called “Why Newsweek is Bad for Kids”. The authors make the following argument:

“Why, against all common sense, is Newsweek going to try and convince us that television is good for kids? Well, one reason might be: Newsweek is owned by the Washington Post Company, which owns a sprawling cable company and six broadcast stations around the country. Of course, nowhere in the article does Newsweek tell us this.”

And guess what? Slate is also owned by the Washington Post:

“On 21 December 2004 it was purchased by the Washington Post Company. Since 4 June 2008 Slate has been managed by The Slate Group, an online publishing entity created by the Washington Post Company to develop and manage web-only magazines.”

What a coincidence! Actually, I do think this is a coincidence. Since almost all of the big media have become hugely concentrated, it is not surprising that both Newsweek and Slate would be owned by a huge media conglomerate that also owns TV stations. Even if a writer were so inclined, heavily critiquing TV at Slate, or any other media-conglomerate magazine would not be a good career move.

Update: Two more ways that TV increases weight gain.

Reduced Metabolic rate:

“Results indicated that metabolic rate during television viewing was significantly lower (mean decrease of 211 kcal extrapolated to a day) than during rest. “

Exposure to Junk Food Advertisement:

“TV Food Advertising Increases Children’s Preference for Unhealthy Foods, Study Finds”

“Childhood Obesity: It’s Not the Amount of TV, It’s the Number of Junk Food Commercials”

“TV Bombards Children With Commercials For High-Fat And High-Sugar Foods”

“People were eating without awareness that the ads were causing them to eat. One possible mechanism is that the pleasure associated with eating presented in the ads primed eating behaviors in general. Thus even if people do not remember which products were advertised, the ads will affect their behavior.”

One thought on “Slate Misleading Parents and the Public

  1. Pingback: How studies are misleading | A Mover's Blog

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