This article examines how exposure and access to different media is linked with adolescents’ well being in terms of nutrition, scholastic performance and obesity. Through review of literature, the paper looks at how studies done at various places have proved that increasing influence of new media technologies in adolescents lives can lead to various detrimental effects on their health. The paper also explores how the concept of media literacy can be used in order to ensure optimal nutritional status during the process of growing up while using new media technologies.
New media technologies have changed the entire communication scenario all over the globe.The speed at which new media technologies have developed is both encouraging and alarming, and it has raised concerns among educators, parents and researchers. There is no doubt that media has converted the whole world into a global village but as far as exposure of adolescents to new media technologies and ensuing treats are concerned ,it is gaining importance and is a matter of great concern.
The emergence of new communication technologies has brought public concern about the influence of media on children. A brief review of each topic will offer some insight into the influence of mass media on the health of adolescents vis-a-vis changing media technologies. This discussion will also address how the concept of media literacy can be used in order to ensure optimal nutritional status by having health related attitudes and behaviors during the process of growing up while using new media technologies.
Adolescence and Nutrition
According to Census 2001, adolescents in the age group 10 -14 years constitute more than half of the adolescent population. This phase is characterized by acceleration of physical growth and psychological and behavioral changes, thus bringing about transformation from childhood to adulthood.
World Health Organization of the United Nations has defined health as the”state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely the absence of disease”.
Nutrition is the focal point for health and well being. Since it is an important determinant of physical growth of adolescents, it needs more attention.
Proper nutrition is especially important for the adolescents because of their accelerated body growth. In addition, their early dietary decisions can have lifelong health implications, e.g., obesity, poor nutrition, inadequate female reproductive development (Davies, 1993).
Unfortunately, the adolescents are susceptible to poor nutritional habits. They often eat with peers, rather than family. Because they are growing physically they snack a lot, but the snacks are usually high in fat and calories. They are also very busy, they argue and they do not have the time to eat properly (Davies, 1993).
New communication technologies have led to meal convenience and sedentary lifestyle. While working on computers or talking on mobile phones they prefer to eat junk food such as fast foods and soft drinks etc. Such foods are low in nutritive values and high in fat and calories and thereby create eating disorders.
Adolescents and Media Usage
Digital technologies have become the daily tools of communication, information, and entertainment for a majority of adolescents. They wake up with an alarm on cell phone,they use various technologies during the whole day and ultimately go to sleep with laptops in their laps or mobile phones or I-pods plugged-in to their ears.
Surfing of social networking sites, listening to I-pods and scrolling with mobile phones are part of their everyday lexicon.
If we compare, adolescents of today with the adolescents of the 50’s or 60’s they might have spent several hours a week accessing any one medium two decades before, whereas the adolescents of today have 24 x 7 media access. In fact, new technologies have become an integral part and staple diet of the adolescents. Mobile phones, I-pods, laptops have become family members and children are growing up and living with them.
Hyper-involvement of children using media technologies is driving fundamental changes in adolescents. Most of the children and adolescents do not get enough high-quality sleep, and their sleep time does not match with the parents, which leads to undesirable conflicts and pressures in the family.
As stated by Mridula Menon (2004), “It is virtually impossible these days for a child to be completely sequestered in a protective cocoon of homespun ideals.This heavy dose of information is being constantly processed in the child’s mind. Some are rejected. Some stays with an indeterminate status and some leave a mark(p.177).”
A Kaiser Family Foundation Study (2005) mentioned that the media play a central role in the lives of today’s children and adolescents. Their homes, indeed their bedrooms, are saturated with media. Many young people carry miniaturized, portable media with them wherever they go. They comprise the primary audience for popular music; they form important niche audiences for TV, movies, video games, and print media (each of these industries produces extensive content targeted primarily at kids); they typically are among the early adopters of personal computers (indeed, of most new media) and are a primary target of much of the content of the World Wide Web(p.1).
The media environment continues to change. In the past five years, the proportion of 8- to 18-year-olds with computers in their home has increased 13 percent (from 73% to 86%), and the proportion with Internet connections has grown from 47% to 74%. Instant messaging, a computer activity that barely existed in 1999 has now become one of the most popular things to do online. Today’s young people live media-saturated lives. They spend nearly 6½ hours per day (6:21) using media. Young people also report in excess of an hour daily (1:02) using a computer other than for school or work, 49 minutes daily playing video games, and 43 minutes daily of recreational reading (books , magazines, newspaper) (p 57).
According to Stasburgeret al (2010) youth spend an average of seven hours a day using media, and the vast majority of them have access to a bedroom television, computer, the Internet, a video-game console, and a cell phone. (p.756).
Addictive use of media, especially television , Internet, mobile phones , I- pods among adolescents has also led to nutrition and eating disorders,lower academic performance, obesity, social isolation, behavior problems etc.
Communication Technologies and Obesity in Adolescents
Excessive use of digital technologies such as surfing on net, playing of video games, messaging on mobile phones is used as a substitute for regular physical activity among adolescents. Such activities promote obesity by reducing time devoted to physical exercise and by increasing consumption of high calorie non-nutritious foods.
Dietz and Gortmaker (1985)observed the time spent watching the television and the prevalence of obesity. In 12- to 17-year-old adolescents, the prevalence of obesity increased by 2% for each additional hour of television viewed (p.803).
Om Gupta(2006) has also stated that television viewing makes a substantial contribution to obesity because prime time commercials promote unhealthy dietary practices. Commercials for healthy food make up only 4% of the food advertisements shown during children’s viewing time. The number of hours of television viewing also corresponds with an increased relative risk of higher cholesterol levels in children. Television can also contribute to eating disorders in teenage girls, who may emulate the thin models seen on television. Eating meals while watching television should be discouraged because it may lead to less meaningful communication and, arguably, poorer eating habits (p.108).
In an article published in The Tribune on September 11, 2010, Ravi kumar has written that 25% kids above eight are obese in urban India. A national survey was carried out by Edusports organization in 21 schools across the National Capital Area (NCR), Mohali, Amritsar and Panipat as also in Lucknow, Chennai, Indore, Bangalore, Mumbai and several other cities of India. It was revealed that almost an equal number of children between five and 14 years of age had high body mass index, reflecting poor endurance level, muscle strength and flexibility. It was also found that obesity levels were by and large similar across the states. It was found that one of the schools had strength of 2500 students,out of which only 75 students asserted that they were interested in sports. Only two hours in the entire week were devoted to physical activity by the school students(p.1).
Media Use and Social Isolation
Another area of concern is the adolescents’ preference for spending more time in accessing the new media rather than spending time with their families. Excessive use of new media technologies has led to greater physical isolation of individuals. It was found that most of the adolescents more preoccupied with creating and updating digital profiles, doing text messaging on mobile phones or playing video games. The greater demand on technologically – mediated communication has brought coldness and distance between people has increased many-fold. Instead of meeting people, Internet addicts choose to stay at home and surf through different web pages. This has led to reduction in physical workload but it has increased mental and psychological workload.
Perlman and Peplau (1981) defined loneliness as, “the unpleasant experience that occurs when a person’s network of social relations is deficient in some important way” (p. 31).
Nie (2001) has responded to his critics by arguing that time is a limited commodity, so that the hours spent on the Internet must come at a cost to other activities. “We would expect that all those spending more than the average of 10 hours a week on the Internet would report substantially fewer hours socializing with family members, friends, and neighbors. It is simply a matter of time.” (p.425).
Janet Morahanet al (2003) argued that Internet use isolates individuals from the real world and deprives them of the sense of belonging and connection with real world contacts. Thus, loneliness can be a byproduct of excessive Internet use because users are spending time online, often investing in online relationships, which are artificial and weak, at the expense of real life relationships. (p. 660).
Exposure to Media Violence
Adolescence exposure to violence on television, movies,video games, cell phones and on the Internet has detrimental effects on their behavior which is a threat to society.
According to R. Huesmann L (2007) violent or aggressive actions seldom result from a single cause; rather multiple factors converging over time contribute to such behavior. Accordingly, the influence of the violent mass media is best viewed as one of the many potential factors that influence the risk of violence and aggression (S7).
John .L. Sherry (2001)mentioned that most frequently cited mechanism by which games can result in aggressive behavior is social learning theory. Social learning posits that behavior is learned through imitation of attraction rewarded models. These behaviors can become a relatively enduring part of the learner’s behavioral repertoire. Proponents of SLT for video games argue that video games should have particularly powerful effects due to high attention levels of players and their active identification with the characters on the screen. Some video game researchers also argue that game players are rewarded directly for enacting symbolic violence, and therefore may transfer the learned aggression to the outside world(p. 412).
Brett Brown and Pilar Marin (2009) mentioned that there is a strong body of research linking exposure to violent television program content in childhood to violent behavior, both as children and later as young adults. (p.1).
Media Access and Academic Performance
In the twenty first century new media has brought unprecedented opportunities to adolescents and therefore it has become important to determine whether and how new media use is linked to academic achievement among adolescents.New technologies distract adolescents to do their homework.
Anita Hamilton (2009) stated that students spend a heck of a lot of time logged onto Facebook, a circumstance that irks educators, who complain of students messaging friends or posting snarky status updates from their laptops instead of paying attention to lectures(4).
Kubeyet al(2001) revealed that heavier recreational Internet use was shown to be correlated highly with impaired academic performance.Loneliness, staying up late, tiredness, and missing class were also correlated with self-reports of Internet-caused impairment. Self-reported Internet dependency and impaired academic performance were both associated with greater use of all Internet applications(p. 366).
Shariffet al, (2010) revealed time spent on media use could simply displace time spent doing other activities that promotes academic performance, such as doing homework or reading books. Second, viewing certain types of adult content could affect school performance by increasing adolescents’ involvement in risky behaviors, such as smoking and alcohol use, resulting in decreased motivation at school(p. 56).
Hancoxet al (2005)mentioned that television viewing in childhood and adolescence is associated with poor educational achievement by 26 years of age. Excessive television viewing in childhood may have long-lasting adverse consequences for educational achievement and subsequent socio-economic status and well being(p. 614).
Advertisements, Media and Adolescents
Davies (1993):By age 18 a young person will have seen 350,000 commercials and spent more time being entertained by the media than any other activity except sleeping (p. S-28).
Strasburgeret al(2010): Advertising is a pervasive influence on children and adolescents. Young people view more than 40,000 ads per year on television alone and increasingly are being exposed to advertising on the Internet, in magazines, and in schools. This exposure may contribute significantly to childhood and adolescent obesity, poor nutrition, and cigarette and alcohol use. Media education has been shown to be effective in mitigating some of the negative effects of advertising on children and adolescents. (P.2563).
According to the BBC (2006), The European Parliament has passed new laws to clamp down on misleading claims on food product labels. All foods that make a new health claim will now have to be checked before they go on sale. Statements such as ‘low fat’ will have to meet a standardized definition agreed by the EU. And foods that make a nutrition claim – such as being low in salt – will have to make it clear on the same label if they are also high in fat or sugar.In addition, foods that are high in more than one nutrient will not be allowed to make a nutrition claim about another of its ingredients(p.1).
Literacy Programmes on Health
According to the Aspen Institute’s Report of the National Leadership Conference on Media Literacy,a media literate person and everyone should have the opportunity to become one–can decode, evaluate, analyze and produce both print and electronic media. The fundamental objective of media literacy is critical autonomy in relationship to all media. Emphasis on media literacy training range widely, including informed citizenship, aesthetic appreciation and expression, social advocacy, self-esteem, and consumer competence (Aufderheide, 1993, p. 1).
Media literacy is often understood by public health advocates as’the ability to understand, analyze, evaluate, and create media messages in a wide variety of forms’ (Aufderheide&Firesone, 1993).
Scharrer (2002) writes: “It is necessary to move beyond implicit assumptions about the benefits such efforts (media literacy education) can achieve and toward their explicit definition and measurement” (p. 354).
Davies (1993) also recommends media literacy as a regular course of study for those interested in the education profession. “It is incumbent upon our educational system to prepare its students with the skills necessary to be able to approach the media critically, particularly advertising. In addition, the middle school years are ideal to teach media literacy”.(p. S-33).
Kubey (1998) divides the discussion geographically, describing the U.S. as being primarily “inoculatory,” or driven by an effort to protect children from the effects of media on children, whereas Europe has moved toward a more cultural studies-based approach in which “the deconstruction of how the media impart particular cultural values is often one of the goals” ( p. 6).
The purpose of this paper has been to provide insights on how new media technologies and their increasing use create profound impact on adolescents well being, academic performance etc.
Adolescents’ access to new media technologies would continue to rise. It will be increasingly important for policy makers to have in-depth understanding of adolescents’ usage and response to media and its content and safeguard the adolescents from exploitative commercial gain.
Adolescents should know when to draw the line accessing new technologies, when it comes to their health because childhood obesity, stress, isolation,and violence have many effects which become not only a major threat to the survival of the adolescents but also a national and global problem.
So, policy makers need to find out ways so that negative effects are minimized and positive messaging are reached out to youth.
Recommendations and Suggestions
- Government, NGOs,parents and teachers should act as catalytic agents – to promote more and more quality oriented health and media literacy programs in school to teach children to become critical viewers as well as consumers of forms media including advertising. Sophisticated programs are needed which would encourage adolescent to eat healthy diet. Such programs should discuss the benefits of physical activity rather than sedentary habits that would equip adolescents to deal effectively with conflicting messages of new media environment.
- Adolescents nutrition status assessment should be done regularly by checking their height, weight and BMI.
- Community-based healthy eating campaign should be promoted by policy makers.
- Advertising for junk food should be controlled by levying heavy taxes or banning the advertisements during programs that are predominantly viewed by adolescents.
- Comparative international research could help to shed light on the profound impact of digital technologies on nutritional status of adolescents.
So, sophisticated programs are needed which would encourage adolescent to eat healthy diet. Such programs would make them aware of benefits and risks vis-a-vis changing media technologies. This would also help them to draw the line between media diet versus nutritious diet as it is rightly said ‘Children’s health is nation’s wealth.
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