tvSmarter – Life in a TV Nation

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Slate Misleading Parents and the Public

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.”

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Michell Obama Fighting Childhood Obesity


Originally uploaded by The White House

America is suffering from not only an obesity epidemic, but also a childhood obesity epidemic. For the children effected, this means a large increase in Type 2 Diabetes (used to be called adult-onset diabetes), hypertension, and a general reduction in quality-of-life.

Who is to blame for this epidemic? Well, I think a big part of the blame lies with the industries that profit from this epidemic, the junk-food industry and of course the television industry. Children’s TV especially gets most of it’s profits from endless Junk-food commercials and junk-food product placements. In addition, the TV keeps kids sitting on the couch, giving them lots of time to eat yet more junk food and watch yet more commercials.

The junk-food industry and the TV industry belittle and dismiss concerns about this epidemic. And in addition, a lot of people take offense at the very idea that some lifestyle choices are healthier than others.

So extra kudos for Michelle Obama for taking on a politically sensitive, and often neglected subject.

A centerpiece of her effort to fight the obesity epidemic is her excellent website:

Let’s Move

Unlike countless articles and posts focusing purely on the negative effects junk-food, Let Move also looks at the importance of exercise and play:

“Children need 60 minutes of active and vigorous play every day to grow up to a healthy weight.(source) If this sounds like a lot, consider that 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 ½ hours to using entertainment media including TV, computers, video games, cell phones and movies  in a typical day, and only a third of high school students get the recommended levels of physical activity.   To increase physical activity, today’s children need safe routes to walk and ride to school, parks, playgrounds and community centers where they can play and be active after school, and sports, dance or fitness programs that are exciting and challenging to keep them engaged.”

What else is Let’s Move doing? Here’s some examples:

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Online Voting Ends July 10


The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has committed to awarding “$500 million in grants to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic by 2015”.

To get a better idea about what programs should be supported they looked at the research on the causes of obesity. From this they picked “20 recently published articles ” that looked promising.

Now the Foundation is asking the public to vote.

“This summer, we want to know what you think. Below are 20 articles that we believe had a major policy impact, affected our work and thinking, or warranted our attention, due to our effort to advance the research and knowledge base for childhood obesity prevention. Please choose up to five (5) articles you think best meet those criteria. We will publish the voting results in mid-July. Voting ends July 10, so vote now.”

My 5 picks are (note articles are listed in random order):


“A Randomized Trial of the Effects of Reducing Television Viewing and Computer Use on Body Mass Index in Young Children”


“Fast-Food Restaurant Advertising on Television and its Influence on Childhood Obesity”


“Child Care as an Untapped Setting for Obesity Prevention: State Child Care Licensing Regulations Related to Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Media Use for Preschool-Aged Children in the United States”


“The Context for Choice: Health Implications of Targeted Food and Beverage Marketing to African Americans”


“Is Support for Traditionally Designed Communities Growing? Evidence from Two National Surveys”


I hope everyone takes a few minutes to vote, especially for the article “A Randomized Trial of the Effects of Reducing Television Viewing and Computer Use on Body Mass Index in Young Children”



Does TV Help Cause Alzheimer’s ?


Big thanks to Chris for emailing me this link:



that study along with this one:


both found a link between excessive TV watching and Alzheimer’s. But does TV watching directly contribute to Alzheimer’s, or is the association more complicated?


This is an important question, as Chris pointed out in his email:


“One other important aspect that this article did not touch on was the immense social economic cost to providing care to the segment of our society that deals with geriatric health care in regards to dementia.”



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Safe-Sex and Product Placement

Product Placement (

M&Ms passed up the chance to be the candy used to lure the shy little alien from his hiding place in the 1982 blockbuster E.T., thereby letting one of the most successful instances of movie product placement fall into the hands of a competitor who benefitted mightily from it.


Hershey did not pay to have Reese’s Pieces used in E.T., but it did agree to do a tie-in between the movie and the candy after the film was released. A deal was inked wherein Hershey Foods agreed to promote E.T. with $1 million of advertising; in return, Hershey could use E.T. in its own ads.  

Within two weeks of the movie’s premiere, Reese’s Pieces sales went through the roof. (Disagreement exists as to how far through the roof they went: Sales were variously   described as having tripled, experienced an 85% jump, or increased by 65%). Whatever the numbers, though, Reese’s Pieces — up until then an underdog confection only faintly known by the U.S. candy-consuming public — were suddenly being consumed in great handfuls. And all thanks to a shy little alien lured from the bushes and into America‘s hearts by a trail of peanut-butter-in-a-candy-coated-shell confections.  

Thus is the potential power of product placement. When it’s done right, it can make a product.  

Paid product placement in films has come to be one of the ordinary ways of things in Hollywood. Exxon paid $300,000 for its name to appear in Days of Thunder, Pampers paid $50,000 to be featured in Three Men and a Baby, and Cuervo Gold spent $150,000 for placement in Tequila Sunrise, according to Danny Thompson, president of Creative Entertainment Services, in a 1993 New York magazine interview. As for how effective the practice of product placement is, that same article quotes Joel Henrie, a partner at Motion Picture Placement, as saying: “Look what happened to Hermes scarves after Basic Instinct, Ray-Ban sunglasses after Risky Business, and suspenders after Michael Douglas wore them in Wall Street.”

But is turns out corporations aren’t the only ones using the power of product placementIn the third-world, Governments and non-profits are using the power of TV and radio (namely soap-operas) to encourage:

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