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Teaching Youth to be Media Smart

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Updated Media-Smart Youth Curriculum, Materials, and Website Now Available

Media-Smart Youth Cover for Facilitator's Guide Research shows1 that youth ages 11 to 14 spend an average of 8 hours and 40 minutes every day using media—watching TV and videos, playing video games, using computers, listening to music, and reading books, magazines, and newspapers.

During this "screen time," children are exposed to between 14,000 and 30,000 advertisements2 annually on TV alone, mostly for candy, cereal, and fast food. The rising use of media is tied to a sedentary lifestyle, which combines with other factors to contribute to childhood obesity.

To help young people understand the complex media world around them and how it influences their nutrition and physical activity choices, the NICHD created the Media-Smart Youth: Eat, Think, and Be Active!® interactive after-school program. The program not only teaches media literacy skills to youth ages 11 to 13, but also encourages them to be creative and develop their own media products to educate their friends about nutrition and physical activity.

Join us for the Media-Smart Youth Webinars:

  • Wednesday, May 8, 6:00-8:00 p.m. EDT
  • Wednesday, May 22, 12:00-2:00 p.m. EDT

Those interested can register
by visiting

Media-Smart Youth is one of four youth curricula included in WE CAN! (Ways to Enhance Children's Activity & Nutrition). WE CAN! is a nationwide education program that aims to help youth stay at a healthy weight by encouraging improved food choices, increased physical activity, and reduced screen time (time spent sitting in front of a TV or computer). The program is led by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) in collaboration with the NICHD, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and the National Cancer Institute. Visit About WE CAN! for more information.

Media-Smart Youth, which first launched in 2005, was recently upgraded to incorporate the latest federal dietary and physical activity guidelines and information about new media, such as social networking and videosharing. Select a link below to learn more.

Introducing Media-Smart Youth Upgraded
About the Program
Why do youth need to be media smart?
More Information

Introducing Media-Smart Youth Upgraded

The Media-Smart Youth Upgraded program retains all of the features of the original program (see About the Program below) as well as some new features. Among them are the Tips for Media-Smart Parents for each lesson. These tips provide parents and caregivers with some media awareness basics and background on what their young person learned in a given lesson, as well as some ideas for encouraging media-smart activities at home. The tips parallel the Take Home a New Idea sheets that the youth receive at the end of each lesson.

The Media-Smart Youth Upgraded website, scheduled to launch later this month, offers everything that an activity leader needs to become a Media-Smart Youth facilitator or to start a Media-Smart Youth program. The site offers the Media-Smart Youth Facilitator's Guide Upgraded, DVD, and Media-Smart Youth 6 Media Questions Poster (PDF - 665 KB) used for the program, as well as a train-the-trainer guide and other useful resources. There is also a section for parents that provides information about the program and suggests ways caregivers can support their children's participation in Media-Smart Youth.

To launch the upgraded curriculum, the NICHD is offering a free training webinar for representatives of organizations and community groups. The trainings are part of the HHS partnership with, the initiative launched by First Lady Michelle Obama to help solve the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation, so that children born today will grow up healthier and able to pursue their dreams. The webinars are organized by the HHS Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships as part of the Let's Move Faith and Communities initiative featuring NIH's We Can! program, of which Media-Smart Youth is a part.

Dates for the training are:

  • Wednesday, May 8, 6:00-8:00 p.m. EDT
  • Wednesday, May 22, 12:00-2:00 p.m. EDT

The Media-Smart Youth training webinar will feature an overview of the program's origins and objectives; information about the curriculum content and structure; and tips for implementing and facilitating the program.


About Media-Smart Youth

In this interactive after-school program, an adult facilitator leads youth through 10 structured lessons—which focus on media awareness, media production, nutrition, and physical activity. Media-Smart youth is not a weight-reduction program, but rather a health promotion program that makes learning about healthy food and physical activity choices fun and exciting.

Lessons are designed to engage and motivate youth to think critically, be creative, and make informed choices about nutrition and physical activity. Through multiple activities, a Snack Break, an Action Break, and a media production opportunity, youth learn to be discriminating media consumers.

The program culminates in a creative project called a Big Production, in which participants create a media product for other people their age about one of the nutrition, physical activity, or media awareness concepts they learned during the program. Big Productions range from a school newspaper article to a video to a website, depending on what the youth select. The video clip below shows some examples of Big Productions.


A text alternative is available at

In 2009, the NICHD conducted a formal evaluation of the program. Results showed that youth who went through the program were more skilled and knowledgeable about media awareness, media analysis, nutrition, and physical activity than were kids who did not participate. You can read the complete Report on the Evaluation of the Media-Smart Youth Program.

The Voices of Experience video clip below features interviews with facilitators from around the country sharing their first-hand experiences running the program.

A text alternative is available at  


Why do youth need to be media smart?

About one-third of Americans ages 2 to 19 are overweight and obese, according to a 2010 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.3 Many factors contribute to this trend, from unhealthy eating habits to sedentary lifestyles.

As the statistics noted above confirm, media consumption also plays an important role in the obesity epidemic, especially with the dramatic increase in mobile device usage in the last few years. Media is so universal that many young people don't think about media or how it affects their decisions. Some of the messaging is so subtle, youth aren't aware that they are being influenced.

Media literacy—being able to look at images and messages in the media and pull them apart to know the real who, what, and why—is a key component of the Media-Smart Youth program. Media skills help young people think critically about what they see and hear, and make informed choices about their nutrition and physical activity.

The NICHD supports these and other health-promotion efforts to teach young people how to make smart choices about their health. Evidence-based programs such as Media-Smart Youth are an important piece in the puzzle of improving the health of the nation's youth.


More Information

For more information, select one of the following links:

Originally Posted: May 7, 2013


All NICHD Spotlights

  1. 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]
  2. Kaiser Family Foundation. (2007). Food for Thought: Television Food Advertising to Children in the United States. Retrieved December 12, 2012, from External Web Site Policy (PDF - 677 KB) [top]
  3. 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 External Web Site Policy[top]
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