Booster Shots

Oddities, musings and news from the health world

Category: Television

TV and children: Ads for fast food are up, ads for sweets and cookies are down

July 5, 2010 |  1:30 pm

Children television TV isn’t the same as it used to be, especially when it comes to children’s shows.

Though friendly faces such as Mr. Rogers and Barney the dinosaur used to be popular among kids, hyper-active animated samurais and brightly colored creatures from the Gabba gang now rule the small screen.

The same can be said about television food advertisements. Something has definitely changed…

Using television rating data from Nielsen Media Research for 2003, 2005 and 2007, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago analyzed trends in exposure to food advertising by age and race for children and adolescents, and came up with some interesting findings.

Whereas in 2003, cereal was the most frequently seen food product in kids' food advertisements, by 2007 fast food ads were the most frequently seen ads for children of all ages.

Why is this not shocking?

On a more optimistic note, however, the study found that the overall number of food ads seen daily fell rather drastically from 2003 to 2007, especially among audiences aged 2 to 5 and 6 to 11 years old. (The number of candy bar and cookie ads also fell in all age categories, a statistic that is sure to make mothers happy.)

The study, which placed viewers into one of three categories by age — 2 to 5, 6 to 11, and 12 to 15 --  also looked at their exposure to food ads by race. African American children in all age categories in all three years of ratings saw more food ads per day than their white counterparts, the scientists found.

Further troubling was the seesaw change in food advertising trends, in which a victory in one area signaled a defeat in another.  For example, although the greatest percentage increase in beverage ad exposure was for bottled water (Yay for health!), exposure to diet soft drink ads also increased significantly, just not as much.

“It’s a little disturbing,” said Lisa Powell, lead author of the study and associate professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “On the one hand, the number of advertisements selling sweets and soft drinks to kids has decreased quite substantially -- but on the other hand, you see that the number of ads for diet soda drinks, and racial targeting has also increased.”

Planning to take the study further, Powell said that she will now add 2009’s ratings into the mix. And she  wants to start monitoring the nutritional contents of products advertised to children.

The study is published online in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

-- Jessie Schiewe

Photo: By 2007, fast food ads were the most seen ads for children of all ages. Credit: Tim Boyle / Getty Images

Watch at your own risk: study finds reality TV heavier on aggression than fictional shows

May 21, 2010 |  4:41 pm

We were still reeling from last night's episode of "The Real Housewives of New York," which was a one-way ticket to Crazyville, when we stumbled on a new study about scenes of aggression on television. Turns out that reality TV has it over non-reality programming when it comes to showing acts of aggression. After last night, we're not surprised.

Kj019qnc Reality TV accounted for 61.5% of total aggressive acts, and non-reality TV shows came in at 38.5%.

Researchers watched 60 hours worth of five reality shows and 60 hours of five non-reality shows, some American and some UK-based (shows included "The Apprentice," "Big Brother," "The Vicar of Dibley," and "Torchwood"). Acts of aggression were categorized as physical, verbal or relational, and the kind of act (hitting, gossiping, name-calling) was recorded. The researchers also noted if the act was justified or rewarded, if it happened naturally or artificially, and what type of award the aggressor got.

In all, there were 5,099 separate acts of aggression recorded for the study period; reality TV had 3,138 acts, and non-reality TV had 1,961. Although non-reality programming had far more physical acts of aggression than reality TV, all programs had much higher instances of verbal and relational aggression. Reality shows greatly edged out non-reality programming on relational violence; in the paper the authors said, "Such aggression often helps the contestant to 'get ahead' in the program, for example, by defaming another contestant's reputation or by turning contestants against each other. However, the extremely high levels of relational aggression in reality programs are somewhat alarming, given the realistic portrayal of the aggression."

The UK version of "The Apprentice" had the highest number of aggressive acts per program of the reality shows (about 85), while on the non-reality side that honor went to "Eastenders" (about 50). Although the paper concludes by noting that given the vast appeal of reality programs they're sure to be around for a while, the lead author said in a news release even she was surprised by the findings: "I knew the level of aggression was going to be high, but I had no idea it was going to be this high," said Sarah Coyne, a professor of family life at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

The study appears in the June issue of the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo: Alan Sugar hosts the UK version of "The Apprentice." Credit: BBC

Toddler TV time linked to poorer fourth-grade classroom attention, math and exercise

May 4, 2010 | 12:40 pm

Children who at 2 1/2 logged a lot of time in front of the TV appear to suffer ill effects from the experience seven years later when they're on the threshold of 'tween-dom, a new study finds.

A large-scale, long-running Canadian study of children found that for every extra hour of TV time a toddler watches weekly, she is likely in fourth grade to have lower levels of classroom engagement and poorer performance in math, is more likely to be the victim of bullying, to be sedentary and to have a higher body-mass index. On average, the 1,314 children enrolled in the study watched 8.82 hours per week of television at 29 months. They watched an average of 14.85 hours a week by the time they were 4 1/2 years old -- and higher levels of viewing at this age increased their risks down the road, as well.

"Early childhood television exposure undermines attention," the group says of its findings. While other studies have suggested as much, few have followed children well beyond their early viewing years to gauge the longer-term effect on kids' ability to sit and listen to classroom instructions and stick with a learning task through completion. At 2 1/2,  toddler's brains are laying down the foundation for many of the "effortful control" skills they'll need to learn and prosper in academic settings. So researchers at the Institut de la Statistique du Quebec surmised that tv-viewing rates at that age might have far-reaching effects on performance in classrooms once the material became more challenging.

"Our results suggest that early television exposure could eventually foster risk toward a more passive rather than active disposition when attending to learning situations," the authors write.

Fourth-grade teachers were far more likely to believe a student who had watched a lot of TV as a toddler was or would be a victim of other kids' taunts or abuse. And parents of children who watched a lot of TV were more likely to report that in fourth grade, their child spent more time playing video games, was less physically fit and less likely to be drawn to active pursuits. Not surprisingly, perhaps, those kids also were slightly heavier than their peers who had watched less TV as toddlers.

The American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents of children under 2 not to sit their children in front of the television, but it's a recommendation widely disregarded in the United States, where children under 2 routinely log and average of close to an hour and a half of TV a day. A recent study  in Pediatrics found watching TV in the first two years of life conferred no benefits in terms of language or motor skills.

 Here's an interesting view by pediatricians of what kids aren't doing when they're in front of the tube.

--Melissa Healy


Prism Awards spotlight addiction, mental health

April 23, 2010 |  3:25 pm

No industry likes to give itself accolades more than Hollywood, but an award ceremony last night was a little different. The Prism Awards honored actors, television shows and movies that honestly portray depictions of mental health issues and addiction, plus tobacco, drug and alcohol use.

L1b8pjnc Among the winners were Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal, stars of the film "Crazy Heart," Hector Elizondo and Tony Shalhoub for the TV show "Monk," and the film "The Soloist." Television shows singled out included "How I Met Your Mother," "Breaking Bad" and "The Celebrity Apprentice." You can read more about the winners in the Envelope. The awards are produced by the Entertainment Industries Council Inc. in collaboration with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the FX Network. The awards took place at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

"The Prism Awards recognizes and applauds the remarkable efforts that have been contributed by our creative community," said EIC's President and Chief Executive Brian Dyak, in a news release. "We salute those in the entertainment industry that promote informational truths in their work to improve the lives of the audiences they entertain. Through accurate character portrayals and inspired storytelling, our industry reinforces the importance of those individuals within the care giving and health fields."

Considering how often Hollywood is criticized for its portrayal of issues such as substance abuse and mental health, no doubt the celebs, producers, etc. welcomed this bit of good publicity.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo: Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal in "Crazy Heart." Credit: Lorey Sebastian / Associated Press

Thank goodness they're not real doctors, they only play them on TV

March 27, 2010 | 10:00 am

You didn’t think a doctor would actually try to make a patient sicker to boost his chances of moving to the top of the heart transplant list, did you?

Grey Of course not. Neither did Matthew Czarny, a medical student at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore with an interest in bioethics. But he previously documented that more than 80% of medical and nursing students watched hospital dramas TV, and they might be influenced by what they saw. So he set out to undertake a “systematic analysis” of the examples set in two popular prime-time dramas: “Grey’s Anatomy” and “House M.D.”

(In case you were wondering, “E.R.” wasn’t in the analysis because DVDs weren’t available for the season Czarny and his colleagues wanted to study. “Nip/Tuck” was excluded because it “frequently included extremely outlandish situations.”)

What kinds of lapses in professionalism were observed? The researchers flagged:

  • A doctor trying to steal marijuana
  • A doctor plagiarizing someone else’s research
  • A doctor telling another to invent a diagnosis to get a patient off their hands
  • A doctor trying to revive a patient so that he has the opportunity for further punishment

In addition, the researchers tallied 178 incidences of interpersonal relationships between doctors and other healthcare providers. Only nine of them were deemed to be “depictions of exemplary instances of professionalism.” That’s right, 5%.

The good news (at least for patients) is that almost all of those instances involved doctors behaving badly toward one another. On “House,” a whopping 88% of these encounters involved Dr. House (perhaps not surprising to those who follow the show).

In contrast, Czarny and colleagues write, “’Grey’s Anatomy’ shows nearly the entire cast of physicians being disrespectful to each other or patients at one time or another, but no one character is universally disrespectful.” It’s hard to tell whether this is a good or a bad thing.

The TV docs did better when it came to relationships with their patients – 28% of those encounters were exemplary. They did comparatively well when it came to getting informed consent for risky procedures – 43% of those discussions were deemed exemplary. They also respected patients’ wishes to refuse further treatment about half of the time. (One hopes the figures are much higher in the real world.)

Not surprising, a big problem on the shows is sexual misconduct. In real life, the Assn. of American Medical Colleges doesn’t explicitly characterize sexual misconduct as a breach of professionalism, but the researchers added it to their study anyway.

Good thing. In two cases, doctors correctly declined advances from their patients. In the remaining 67 cases … well, let’s just keep in mind that these shows are soap operas.

The study will be published in the April issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: Does this "Grey's Anatomy" scene look like professional conduct to you? Credit: Ron Tom / ABC

ABC News' '20/20' reports on Jani Schofield

March 12, 2010 |  9:27 am

47736551-28185210 The June 29 L.A. Times story "Jani is at the mercy of her mind," touched off a long-running discussion among Times readers about the need for services for young children with severe mental illness and support for their families. Friday evening, the ABC News show "20/20" airs a program on Jani Schofield, 7, and two other California children with crippling mental illness.

Correspondent Jay Schadler follows Jani and her family as they try to remain united while living in two separate apartments -- a measure needed to protect Jani's toddler brother from her occasional violence. The hour also includes interviews with a 9-year-old child Jani befriended while an inpatient at UCLA's child psychiatry inpatient unit, Rebecca Stancil; and a 13-year-old who fears hurting her siblings, Brenna Wohlenberg.

In the report, titled "Haywire," cameras catch the profoundly disturbing behavior that the children and their families experience almost every day. The effect of severe mental illness on the patients' siblings is heartbreaking, and the stress on parents is frightening. It's not easy to watch. But it's a telling look at the tragedy of an illness that remains stigmatized and hidden from most of society.

Here's a preview. The show airs Friday at 10 p.m.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

More evidence they should take the 'Einstein' out of 'Baby Einstein'

March 1, 2010 |  1:30 pm

For those parents out there who were holding out hope that scientists would someday vindicate Baby Einstein DVDs and other so-called educational videos aimed at the under-2 set, a leading pediatric journal has some bad news: The DVDs do not help 1-year-olds learn words emphasized during the programs.

BabyeinsteinResearchers at UC Riverside tested the vocabularies of 88 children between the ages of 12 and 24 months. Half of them were asked to watch Baby Wordsmith -- part of Disney’s Baby Einstein series -- at home for six weeks. The 35-minute video highlights 30 common words for household objects.

When the researchers compared the two groups, they found no difference in their general language knowledge as measured by words spoken, words understood, and correctly identifying pictures. Children who spent the most hours watching Baby Wordsmith fared no better than children who didn’t watch it at all.

As the researchers put it:

Other than the general gains in word knowledge attributable to time and age, children who viewed the DVD at home over 6 weeks did not demonstrate new knowledge of the DVD-highlighted words.

But it’s not like the videos made absolutely zero impact. The UCR team found that the younger a child was the first time he or she watched any Baby Einstein video, the lower his or her overall language score. The study was published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

This should hardly be a newsflash to parents tuned in to the controversy over the videos. They seem like a great idea, and who wouldn’t want to believe that plopping their tots in front of the boob tube could actually be good for them? Unfortunately, science has failed to substantiate this view.

In fact, previous studies find they can actually be harmful. Check out this report on a 2007 study in the Journal of Pediatrics, which found that “for every hour a day that babies 8 to 16 months old were shown such popular series as "Brainy Baby" or "Baby Einstein," they knew six to eight fewer words than other children.” One of the researchers in that study was quoted as saying, “I would rather babies watch ‘American Idol’ than these videos” because it would increase the odds that they would be watching TV with a parent, which offers at least some developmental benefit.

Last year, the Walt Disney Co. all but acknowledged that the videos were educationally worthless when it agreed to take back the videos in exchange for a refund of $15.99. But if you want to cash in, you’d better hurry -- the program ends Thursday.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: DVDs such as this one may look educational, but don't be fooled, researchers say. Credit: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Three factors to fight childhood obesity

February 8, 2010 |  9:01 am

TV Here's good advice for parents of preschool-age children. Eat meals together, limit your child's weekday TV viewing time and make sure they have a regular sleep schedule. The authors of a new study say children in families with this combination of habits have a 40% lower prevalence of obesity.

The study was based on data from 8,550 children. Each of the three routines was a factor in lowering the risk of obesity regardless of the child's other risks for obesity, such as obesity in the parents. The children with the lowest risk for obesity came from families who had dinner together at least five times a week, got at least 10.5 hours sleep each night and watched less than two hours of TV per day on weekdays. One-quarter of the children in the survey lived in homes where none of those routines was established.

The most positive thing about the study, said the authors of the paper, is that this approach reduces the risk of obesity without focusing entirely on food and weight.

The study is published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Tim Boyle / Getty Images

Kids of Spanish-speaking Hispanic moms watch less TV

February 1, 2010 |  4:13 pm

Shopper When it comes to a kid's television-viewing habits, the mom's language can matter.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine surveyed 1,347 women who had children ages 35 months to 4 years to assess just how much time the kids spent in front on the tube. They knew that young children of white mothers and young children of Hispanic mothers watched similar amounts of TV (we'll go out on a limb here and say "too much"), but they seemed to think there might be some variables to be explored within those numbers and perhaps, down the road, interventions to be found.

They were right on the former. The latter remains to be seen. The researchers found that kids of English-speaking Hispanic moms and kids of Spanish-speaking Hispanic moms watched about the same amount of TV during their first year (yes, yes, infants watching any TV...). But by the second and third years, children of the English-speaking moms watched more, a lot more.

Here's the abstract, published online today in the February issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. And the news release, from EurekAlert.

Maybe TV simply is less important to Spanish-speaking moms, the researchers speculated, or maybe there are fewer Spanish-language shows for toddlers.

Regardless, they conclude: "These findings highlight the need to further understand sociocultural factors that influence television viewing habits in young Hispanic children. Interventionists should consider such factors when designing interventions targeting television viewing in young Hispanic children. Additionally, these findings emphasize the need for researchers to appreciate the heterogeneity of the Hispanic population when describing health behaviors and outcomes in this population."

And if you're wondering why this is relevant, the researchers point out in the study's introduction: "Excessive television viewing in early childhood is associated with a multitude of negative health outcomes, including obesity, attention problems, and sleep troubles. ... Additionally, Hispanic children face disparities in many health outcomes,18 some of which may be associated with early television habits."

And check out these recent stories on TV viewing.

- A new way to think about sedentary behavior

- Watching TV shortens life span, study finds (Or, as the subheads more accurately points out: "Australian researchers find that each hour a day spent in front of television is linked with an 18% greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and an 11% greater risk of all causes of death.")

- More screen time may mean less lean time

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: If adults can't look away, it seems unlikely kids would be able to do so. Credit: Ian Waldie / Bloomberg News

This new year, resolve to be happy

January 4, 2010 |  1:53 pm

Instead of planning to lose weight, find a better job, be a better person (typical New Year’s resolutions, according to a recent Marist poll) why not use 2010 to focus on what’s really important – your own happiness?

Dropping a few pounds and getting a raise might seem like means to that end. And happiness itself might sound like a nebulous, unachievable goal. But happiness might be worth pursuing in its own right – and, according to recent research, could be a much more measurable and tangible goal than previously thought.

Want a primer on that special feeling? A three-part PBS series, "This Emotional Life," tonight will look at why we feel what we feel, through a scientific lens and through the wisdom of such celebrities as Larry David, "Seinfeld" co-creator: "I don't think it's that much of a mystery. If you don't have a job that you like, and you're not having sex, you're just not gonna be happy."

Show host Daniel Gilbert, who sat down with NPR today for an interview, said the larger point on relationships and happiness rings true. "If you're not involved in a relationship," the Harvard psychologist said, "then indeed we see that people who aren't in romantic relationships are less happy than those who are."

Perhaps happiness is contagious, too. In an article published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that the feeling created by absence of relationships -- loneliness -- spreads like a disease:

Results indicated that loneliness occurs in clusters, extends up to three degrees of separation, is disproportionately represented at the periphery of social networks, and spreads through a contagious process.  

Another reason to pursue happiness and avoid loneliness this year – scientists say it’s just as important on the New Year’s resolution list as quitting smoking or losing weight. As Health reporter Melissa Healy blogged last month, loneliness can be as bad for your health as smoking and obesity. 

One double-take worthy theory presented in the PBS show: That, controlling for health problems, older people are generally happier than younger people. Counterintuitive as that notion might seem, it’s been gaining strength in recent years. Health reporter Shari Roan found some logical explanations for the theory in a 2007 story:

[M]ost scientists now think that experience and the mere passage of time gradually motivate people to approach life differently. The blazing-to-freezing range of emotions experienced by the young blends into something more lukewarm by later life, numerous studies show. Older people are less likely to be caught up in their emotions and more likely to focus on the positive, ignoring the negative.

In a special to The Times, Marnell Jameson explores how scientists are starting to quantify and measure happiness -- and what their conclusions are. She starts with a quick quiz: 

True or false:

___ I would be happier if I made more money, found the perfect mate, lost 10 pounds or moved to a new house.
___ Happiness is genetic. You can't change how happy you are any more than you can change how tall you are.
___ Success brings happiness.
Answers: False, false and false. 

Want to find out why? Read Jameson's story, and check out the first part of “This Emotional Life” tonight, airing at 9 p.m. on KCET.   

-- Amina Khan


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