Why is Media-Smart Youth needed?
Every day, 11- to 14-year-olds spend nearly 7 hours using media, including television, computers, and video games. 1 They come in contact with many marketing and advertising messages, especially those for candy, sugary cereals, and fast food. They spend much of their time using these media while sitting down and not being physically active.
Health experts are calling for nationwide action to slow the rising rates of childhood overweight and obesity. According to a 2005 report from the Institute of Medicine, more than 15 percent of young people in the United States are obese, and many more are at risk for becoming overweight or obese. 2
In response to these trends, congress asked four federal agencies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop education programs that reinforce positive behaviors, such as being physically active and eating nutritious foods. The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), part of the National Institutes of Health within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, created Media-Smart Youth to empower young people to think critically about media and make thoughtful decisions about nutrition and physical activity.
Why does the program focus on media?
The media can have a major influence on young people's attitudes about many topics, including health. These media messages can present powerful, and sometimes confusing, models of health behaviors. Media also send both subtle and obvious messages about body image and prevailing societal attitudes. Additionally, most media provide passive entertainment, which often comes at the expense of physical activity. In fact, each hour of television children watch increases the probability that they will become obese by 2 percent. 3
How was the program developed?
The NICHD developed the Media-Smart Youth curriculum and then conducted a rigorous review and testing of the concepts and materials. An initial draft of the curriculum was tested by youth-serving organizations in seven sites across the nation through pilot studies. Facilitators at each pilot site submitted online feedback after each lesson. In addition, curriculum developers observed lessons at all sites and got feedback from participating youth and their parents. After the pilot tests were done, all the sites participated in a day-long meeting to discuss their experiences and make suggestions for revising and improving the curriculum.
In addition, the curriculum was reviewed and revised by experts in nutrition, physical activity, media literacy, and youth development. These revisions led to another round of pilot tests and more feedback from facilitators and youth, leading to a final set of revisions to the curriculum.
Media-Smart Youth combines youth-development principles and practices with the most current research findings and recommendations about nutrition and physical activity. The program is consistent with national learning standards, and the Educational Content Standards Linked to Lesson Activities (PDF - 78.48 KB) section of the curriculum describes how the lessons and activities meet these standards.
How was the program evaluated?
The NICHD conducted a formal evaluation of the Media-Smart Youth curriculum designed to show whether, upon completion of the program, youth have:
- Increased skills in analyzing media messages.
- Increased knowledge of basic principles of healthful and nutritious foods, and awareness of healthful snack choices in real-life settings.
- Increased knowledge of the importance of daily physical activity in promoting health, and new ideas for how to be more active in their daily lives.
- The intent to make healthy choices about snacks and daily physical activity.
The full Program Evaluation Report and the Evaluation Fact Sheet are now available.
1 Roberts, D., & Foehr, U. (2004). Kids & media in America. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
2 Institute of Medicine. (2005). Preventing childhood obesity: Health in the balance, (pp. 55-56). Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
3 Mediascope. (2003). Media use in America. (Issue brief). Universal City, CA: Mediascope Press.