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Obesity, risky behavior linked to too much media exposure

This is the seventh in a series about violence in contemporary culture.

Q: What are some other negative effects of media exposure?

A: Time spent with the media and electronic devices can deprive young children of needed time playing, exploring and interacting with families and peers. When children get older, too much media time can replace reading, physical activities, homework, time with friends and family time.

One of the foremost public health issues in the United States in recent decades has been the development of obesity in children. Those children who spend more than four hours daily watching television are likely to be overweight. The link of excessive television time to obesity long has been established by health experts as a significant causative factor.

The weight problem for children also arises because of the lack of physical exercise coupled with the snacks consumed during television time. Commercials play a role in overeating because they target children and youth. Junk food gets a lot of attention from advertisers. Limiting caloric intake matters, especially if children are consuming more and exercising less.

Another negative effect of advertising that extends beyond food is the media marketing to children and youth to sell toys, the latest technology and other unnecessary items that are presented as desirable and essential. Such advertising creates confusion in children between what they want and what they need. They become more insistent about material possessions and have less and less frustration tolerance when told no or asked to postpone what they want.

An additional negative influence of the media is the depiction of risky behavior as fun, exciting and "adult." The list of these risk-taking behaviors has not changed much over the last 50 to 75 years. These behaviors include drinking alcohol, doing drugs, smoking cigarettes and experiencing sex. The consequences of these endeavors are not emphasized or sometimes not even mentioned.

A study by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth reported alcohol ads on television increased 30 percent from 2001 to 2006. Although cigarette ads are banned from television, there are lots of people smoking on television programs and movies.

In a speech made in 1996, Ellen A. Wartella, dean of the College of Education, and Walter Cronkite Regents Chairwoman in communication at the University of Texas in Austin, analyzed the context of television violence. Wartella believes history substantiates that violence pays. The world is shaped by the use of power, and violence is the most extreme form of power. Violence also pays in entertainment. Thanks in large part to the presence of violence in the media, American entertainment products are the second largest export in the country.

Wartella makes several pertinent observations about media violence. In the majority of television programs and movies, the violence is committed by perpetrators who engage in patterns of repeated acts of aggression, not isolated instances. Warnings about violence in both television programs and movies is lacking. In the years 1994 to 1995, only 15 percent of violent presentations had advisory or violence warnings, and most of those were for movies.

Another observation from Wartella is perpetrators are not punished. Therefore, the media sanctions violence as an acceptable solution. In addition, consequences for victims are not portrayed realistically. Approximately one out of six programs shows long-term consequences, such as physical suffering, emotional harm or financial repercussions.

Another context of violence that undermines the seriousness of harm is the use of humor. More than one third of all violent scenes involve humor. Slapstick follows this model, but it is so heavy on comedy the violence aspect is downplayed.

Violent programs seldom employ anti-violent themes. Approximately 4 percent of programs have these messages. Rather, violence is portrayed as appealing, effective and socially acceptable.

A final aspect of media violence context is rap music. In an article published by Jeanita Richardson and Kim Scott in the Journal of Negro Education, 2002, Howard University, the authors state rap music developed as a catharsis for youth to voice dissatisfaction with society. Rap music is rooted in the African traditions of speaking in rhythm to a beat by some kind of background music. Lower income, urban black children, especially, articulate their anger and frustration with mainstream society through rap music. Rap is a cultural expression and a political commentary on the lives of poor, urban African Americans.

Rap music originated in New York City and offered a dialogue on drugs, police brutality, sex and deprivation of material goods. The authors believe rap was born of the inadequate solutions to social inequities. Society was a player in creating the hopelessness reflected in rap music. The music does not incite violence. It calls attention to the structural and cultural injustices in the social system in America. Rap calls attention to the failures of our social institutions including government, business, social welfare, schools, religions and families.

* Next week's article will begin a discussion of strategies and recommendations to deal with the contemporary culture of violence.

Judy Caprez is an associate professor of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions in care of the department of sociology and social work, Rarick Hall, FHSU.