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Kaiser Study Documents Childhood Media Saturation

The typical American schoolchild now spends more time engaged with media each week than the average adult spends working full time in that same period, according to a new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Released today in Washington, the report, "Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-Olds," documents that children live more media-saturated lives than ever before, spending 6.5 hours a day engaged with TV, the Internet, digital games, radio, MP3 players and other media. The report notes that the most dramatic change from previous years is that so many children routinely multitask, thereby being exposed to the content and advertising of two or more media simultaneously. When that total exposure is taken into account, their average engagement with media each day is the equivalent of 8.5 hours a day, the report concluded.

Curbing content

Sen. Hillary Clinton, a keynote speaker at the event, noted that the new data is good reason for marketers to make greater efforts to curb violent content and pitches for unhealthy food in their advertising.

"Food advertisers should be more responsible about the effect they are having," the New York Democrat said. "I would like to see the entire food industry come together to develop voluntary guidelines that take their responsibility to children seriously."

Dick O'Brien, executive vice president of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, said his group was pleased Mrs. Clinton was asking for voluntary action by marketing companies rather than government intervention.

Media violence

Mrs. Clinton also joined Sens. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Rick Santorum, R-Penn., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan., today in reintroducing legislation to boost research into the impact of media on children, including its impact on the food choices. She said she is especially worried about the effects of media violence and made clear her remarks applied to video games and movies as well as broadcast content.

Mrs. Clinton likened the ultimate effect of excessive media violence to a "silent epidemic" of behavior problems. "We don't necessarily see the results immediately," she said, "it's desensitization over years and year and years. It's getting into your mind that it's OK to diss people, because of their color or because they are women or they are from a different place.”

'Evidence is conclusive'

"The evidence is conclusive on balance that the exposure to this much media and particularly to the violent content is not good for children and teenagers," she said.

She also called for the industry to air more public-service announcements on media literacy and she reiterated her call for the film and broadcast industries to develop a single ratings system.

In a response afteward, Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, said "Everyone who watches any television at all acknowledges the amount of violence on broadcast TV is far less than the violence on cable and satellite."

Grocery industry response

The Grocery Manufacturers of America in a statement said, "Food manufacturers and advertisers agree with Sen. Clinton that obesity is serious public health issue and we are committed to helping Americans live healthier lifestyles.

"With regard to advertising, the food and advertising industries have a nearly 30-year successful record of working with the Children's Advertising Review Unit to monitor ads to children to ensure they meet strict guidelines," the statement said. "Individual companies also have internal policies and programs that ensure that communications to children are done responsibly. All of these industry efforts are under continual review to ensure we are responding to consumer's needs and concerns."

Kaiser Foundation

Headquartered in Menlo Park, Calif., the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization that conducts research and analysis of national health care and related issues. Today's presentation was held in the organization's Washington offices.

The foundation said one reason it conducted the study was the lack of publically available information on the subject. "Traditionally, data about children's media use have been in the domain of marketers and media companies, the result of proprietary surveys conducted for commercial purposes and not available to the broader public," the report said.

The Generation M study analyzed media use throughout a nationally representative sample of 2,032 third-graders through 12th-graders. Seven hundred of the students also kept daily media diaries of their non-school media use.

Media breakdown

Overall, the study found that during a typical day, typical 8- to 18-year-olds do the following:

  • 81% watch TV
  • 74% listen to radio
  • 68% listen to CD/tape/MP3
  • 54% use a computer
  • 47% go online
  • 47% read a magazine
  • 46% read a book
  • 41% play console video games
  • 39% watch videos or DVDs
  • 35% play handheld video games
  • 34% read a newspaper
  • 21% watch prerecorded TV
  • 13% go to a movie


Ira Teinowitz, AdAge.com. March 9, 2005

Copyright © 2004, Crain Communications Inc.. All rights reserved.