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Media Literacy Essential for Healthy Kids
By Melinda Hemmelgarn
published Wednesday, June 27, 2007 in the Columbia Daily Tribune

Sex, violence, drugs, junk food, inappropriate language - parents say they’re concerned about media influence on their children and that media content violates family values. Despite the influx of innovative technology, termed the "new media," TV still tops parents’ concerns. According to "Parents, Children and the Media: A Kaiser Family Foundation Survey," released just last week, 66 percent of parents say they favor government regulations to limit TV content.

So does Victor Strasburger. He’s a pediatrician at the University of New Mexico’s School of Medicine in Albuquerque and the lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy statement titled "Children, Adolescents and Advertising."

Strasburger views media as an urgent public health issue. At the Kaiser Family Foundation’s policy forum last week in Washington, D.C., Strasburger explained that "media work as a ‘super peer,’ " with pervasive influence over children’s behaviors and attitudes.

"Everyone thinks media affects everyone else," he explained, "but it affects us all."

Recognizing the relationship between TV viewing and obesity and the influence of advertising on children’s food preferences, the AAP has called for a ban on junk food advertising during programming that is viewed predominantly by young children. But as TV advertising becomes more highly scrutinized, advertisers seek new, creative ways to target young consumers via the Internet, magazines, movies and- even worse - in schools.

The AAP reports that "advertisers have slowly but steadily infiltrated school systems around the country. The three R’s have now become the four R’s, with the fourth R being ‘retail.’ "

Although the threat of legal action has nudged some changes in marketing practices, parents and teachers need more sophisticated tools to educate and protect youth about the persuasive nature of media.

The AAP says one simple solution would be to have children and adolescents become "critical media viewers," also known as being "media literate."

According to the Alliance for a Media Literate America, "the purpose of media literacy education is to help individuals of all ages develop the habits of critical inquiry and skills of expression that they need to become critical thinkers, effective communicators and active citizens in today’s world."

In other words, media literacy education can help youths recognize, analyze, evaluate and create media - important skills considering that today’s children live increasingly media-saturated, screen-consumed lives.

The AMLA hosted its National Media Education Conference in St. Louis Saturday through yesterday. This year’s theme, "IPods, Blogs and Beyond: Evolving Media Literacy for the 21st Century," included a two-day research summit featuring presentations by an international group of experts from the fields of public health, communications and education. At the opening session, the Missouri governor’s office and the city of St. Louis mayor’s education officer proclaimed this week Media Literacy Education Week.

"We believe this is a big step for media literacy, here in the Show MeState," local conference Chairwoman Jessica Brown said. As a member of the St. Louis-based Gateway Media Literacy Partners, Brown has been a leading advocate for media literacy education. She recognizes that innovations in media technology are driving changes in our global culture and staying current has never been more of a challenge.

During the summer, children might have even more time to spend with the media. To help protect children’s physical and emotional health, the AAP advises parents to limit entertainment screen time - computer, video, TV - to no more than two hours per day. Further, the AAP recommends no TV for children younger than two, including so-called "educational" videos. The AAP also calls for removing TVs from children’s bedrooms.

If you’re interested in learning more about the AMLA and reading highlights from the conference, check out

I’ll share conference highlights in next week’s column.


Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D., is a clinical dietitian, advocate for sustainable food systems and 2004-2006 Food and Society Policy Fellow. She lives in Columbia.

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