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Paediatricians Warn Electronic Media Health Risks

Paediatricians Warn Of Electronic Media Health Risks

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) is expressing serious concern at the negative health effects of electronic media such as television, computer games, the internet and videos in New Zealand and Australia.

The Paediatric and Child Health Division paper, “Children and the Media: Advocating for the Future”, released in N.Z. today, takes a critical stance towards the current use of electronic media. It warns that too many young children and pre-schoolers are having their physical and mental health put at risk by spending long hours in front of TV or computers. The RACP says many parents need to monitor their child’s use of all electronic media, not just TV, much more rigorously.

“Paediatricians both here and in Australia reviewed the best international and local research and the overwhelming evidence of 150 papers shows that the well-being of our children is being put at risk by electronic media.” says Professor Brian Darlow from the RACP Paediatric and Child Health Division. “This is because of the increasing time children as young as four months are spending with this media, and the content they are watching.”

“As specialists in child health we are extremely concerned about these trends, which are badly affecting our children and having serious health consequences.”

Conclusions of this report include:

the average NZ household watches over three hours of TV a day 51% of NZ children watch videos or TV up to four hours per weekend and 64% up to 10 hours during the week. 45% of Australian children have TVs in their bedroom, 27% a VCR, and 22% a computer. 36% of children in Australia say parents let them watch anything. By the end of school years more time will have been spend with electronic media than in the classroom.

The report says electronic media content can be harmful and is often not monitored by parents. It is passive and children are not interacting with their parents or others, and not getting the physical exercise needed for their age group.

“This is a serious and major change to the experience of childhood and a growing public health concern” says Dr Shanthi Ameratunga from the Auckland School of Medicine. “Although selective use of media technologies can provide benefits, research also highlights important harmful effects. Background television reduces the attention span of young children, many of whom do not understand the emotions they experience while watching this media. Most pre-school children cannot distinguish between advertising and programmes.”

“There’s now a growing and substantial body of authoritative research which indicates these early childhood experiences also have an impact on the developing neurology of the brain. There’s evidence that repeated exposure to violence changes brain function, desensitising the child to further violence.”

The Children and Media report also warns that electronic media are contributing to the alarming growth in obesity in children, and associated health risks in later life. 14 % of children in Auckland are now classified as obese and a much greater percentage are overweight. A lack of exercise and poor diets are strongly implicated in the problem of obesity. Paediatricians say this deterioration is exacerbated by the fact that one third of the TV advertising in children’s viewing time in Australia is for food; often fast food, soft drinks or snacks. Children are learning it is acceptable to eat continuously.

Other negative health impacts on children arising from electronic media relate to copy-cat suicide, exposure to child pornography and sexual solicitation, disturbed mental health, increased eating disorders, poor physical health and development.

The RACP has developed two fact sheets for GPs and parents to guide them of using electronic media and protecting children from it’s abuse. It also makes a number of recommendations to government agencies and health authorities.

Increased regulation of food advertising aimed at children

Holding food companies accountable for the negative effects of food advertising on children.

Increased regulation of children’s TV programmes to improve quality.

Improved advice from government and health authorities to parents on children and the media.

Training of all health professionals to include an understanding of the effects of media on children.

The RACP will be advocating these recommendations as it is most concerned about the current health effects on children, and the lack of awareness in the community about these issues. The full report and guides can be downloaded from http://www.racp.edu.au/hpu/paed/media

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