The average American youth takes in eight to ten hours of media every day, up more than two hours from just five years ago. This electronic environment is the “air kids breathe,” says HSPH Assoc. Prof. Michael Rich, MPH ’97, and it needs to be explored like any other public health issue affecting their lives. Applying a scientific approach similar to nutrition research, Rich hopes to gain a better understanding of the educational “nutrients” and the violent “empty calories” in children’s’ media diets in order to help parents and caregivers guide them towards healthy, balanced choices.
Rich, a former filmmaker who left the industry for medical school, arms his young study subjects with video cameras and digital devices programmed to beep at intervals throughout the day. Each beep prompts the subject to record his or her actions and film a panoramic shot of their point of view. The aim is to provide a more reliable accounting of students’ media use than questionnaires that rely on memory.
In an interview in the November/December 2011 Harvard Magazine, Rich explained that children spend more time watching television, texting, and playing video games than doing anything else except sleeping. “You’d think we’d be doing everything in our power to understand the effects,” he said.