Why We Need Media-Smart Youth

About one-third of American children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 are overweight or obese.1 Several factors contribute to the rising rates of overweight children and childhood obesity, including:

  • Reduced physical activity: Nationwide, less than one-third of all youth ages 6 to 17 engage in vigorous physical activity.2

  • Poor diets: Too often, youth are consuming too many calories, while not getting enough of certain nutrients they need. Most U.S. youth eat less than the recommended daily amounts of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.3 And nearly 40% of the daily calories of youth ages 2 to 18 are empty calories from solid fats and added sugars.4

  • Rising use of media, which is tied to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle: Youth ages 11 to 14 spend an average of 8 hours and 40 minutes each day using media.5

  • Frequent exposure to marketing messages for less nutritious foods: Studies show thatchildren are exposed to between 14,000 and 30,000 ads on TV alone per year. The majority of the advertisements are for food—primarily candy, cereal, and fast food.6

In response to these trends, several federal agencies have developed programs to help young people make choices that reinforce healthy behaviors, including being physically active and eating nutritious foods. Media-Smart Youth is part of those efforts.


"The program helps them make better choices by being able to dissect media messages."

Media-Smart Youth Facilitator, YMCA of Coastal Georgia

What makes Media-Smart Youth unique is its focus on media. Media can influence people’s attitudes and behaviors about many things, including physical activity, nutrition, and health. Navigating through this world of media requires knowledge and skill, and that’s why Media-Smart Youth was created. The program aims to improve youth’s media smarts—also known as media literacy. Through the program, young people learn to question the who, what, why, and how behind the words and images. As a result, they develop critical thinking skills that help them form their own opinions and make their own choices about the messages they see and hear.

What Do We Mean by “Media”?

The term “media” refers to the many ways people express ideas and convey information, such as television, radio, computers, cell phones, newspapers, books, magazines, billboards, music, theater, posters, letters, and the Internet. More recent trends that have transformed the traditional media world include cell phone cameras and mobile texts, social networking and video sharing sites, and blogs with very short posts, like Twitter accounts.

These new media share two constants:

  • They are always changing.

  • They are highly influential, especially in the lives of young people.

Media-Smart Youth discusses media forms in general, allowing facilitators and youth to bring in specific types of media relevant to their experiences.


  1. Ogden, C. L., Carroll, M. D., Curtin, L. R., & Lamb, M. M. (2010). Prevalence of high body mass index in US children and adolescents, 2007-2008. Journal of the American Medical Association, 303(3), 242-249. Retrieved December 12, 2012, from http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/303/3/242.fullT2 External Web Site Policy. [top]
  2. Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (2009). F as in Fat: How obesity policies are failing in America, 2009. Princeton, NJ: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. [top]
  3. U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2010). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. (7th Ed.). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. [top]
  4. Reedy, J., & Krebs-Smith, S. M. (2010). Dietary sources of energy, solid fats, and added sugars among children and adolescents in the United States. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 110,1477-1484. [top]
  5. Foehr, U. G., Rideout, V. J., & Roberts, D. F. (2010). Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds. Menlo Park, CA: Kaiser Family Foundation. [top]
  6. Kaiser Family Foundation. (2007). Food for Thought: Television Food Advertising to Children in the United States. Retrieved December 12, 2012, from http://kaiserfamilyfoundation.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/7618.pdf External Web Site Policy (PDF - 676 KB). [top]