As the relationship of health and media becomes more clearly understood, calls for media literacy education have been growing from prestigious organizations such as the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Center on Media and Child Health (affiliated with Children’s Hospital of Boston and Harvard University), MIT’s “Media Lab, Cable in the Classroom, the Conference Board and even the Federal Communications Commission. There are promising signs that media literacy is a viable intervention strategy, and The Consortium for Media Literacy is a pioneer in this field.
The Kaiser Family Foundation’s report, From Zero to Six: Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers (Fall, 2003) confirmed the obvious: American families use media regularly, every day, regardless of age or family circumstances. Indeed, 68% of all children under two use screen media for an average of two hours and five minutes per day (59% watch TV, 42% watch a video or DVD, 5% use a computer and 3% play video games.)
A subsequent Kaiser Family Foundation report issued in spring 2005, Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 year olds, reported that young people in this age group spend nearly 6-1/2 hours a day using media, and when multi-tasking is figured in, they spend more than 8 hours per day using media, which is equivalent to a full-time job.
This data points to the fact that a methodology is needed for the teaching of critical thinking about media information, as well as for responsible use of media by youth who are producing media through social networking, cell phone photos and video. That methodology is media literacy, often defined as the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media in all its forms.
Health and Media Literacy: An Intervention Strategy that Works
Just having critical media literacy skills is not enough, however. Youth and adults alike must know how to apply these process skills to specific media messages. To take one example, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported in March 2007, in a report called Food for Thought: Television Food Advertising to Children in the United States (and this research was supported by a subsequent study in June 2007 by the Federal Trade Commission) that children aged 2-11 were exposed to an average of 18,000 paid ads. This, in the face of previously researched data that shows that the more time children spent watching television, the less likely they were to engage in physical activity (DuRant, Baranowski, Johnson & Thompson, 1994). This in the face of the fact that one of the biggest health problems in Los Angeles Unified School District today is obesity – and keep in mind that LAUSD educates 20% of children in the State of California.
These are complex problems requiring systemic solutions and individual citizen activism. In a 2006 study conducted by Cable in the Classroom called “Media Literacy: A Vital and Underserved Need in Schools,” more than one thousand teachers and library-media specialists from across the country proclaimed that media illiteracy is an urgent -- and largely unmet – priority among educators in schools today. Employers, among other advocacy groups, have also indicated their support for providing 21st Century Skills such as media literacy.
The Consortium for Media Literacy provides a range of services to support media literacy as a cognitive intervention for health, addressing topics such as violence prevention, nutrition, body image, sexuality, geriatrics, and other vital issues. We welcome your participation in bring media literacy education to the table in improving citizen’s health.