Study: How media health literacy strengthens bond with parents, children

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Media health literacy can strengthen the bond of children and parents, a study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior suggests.

Children who search for health information on the Internet may likely become obese. This also means a lack of digital health literacy may make children misinterpret portions, read recommendations intended for adults, or absorb information from non-credible sources.

The study asked questions to 25 children ages 9-11 years old from a summer youth camp. The parents gave their permission to the researchers. Parents reported that at home and in school, their kids spend an hour or two several days week on the Internet.

“We ran this study to see whether children could find the correct answers to obesity-related health questions online, plus see how they go about searching for such information,” explained lead study author Paul Branscum, Ph.D., RD, of Miami University, Oxford, OH.

Professor Branscum’s team found that only three children could properly say how many food groups there are and identify them. Meanwhile, none of the children could correctly say how much of each food group they should consume.

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The children received the questions without using the Internet for researchers to determine how much they already knew on their own. One of the questions is “How much physical activity or exercise should you get each day?” The number of correct answers went down after using the Internet.

Meanwhile, eight children altered their answers when they realized the difference between guidance for adults and children.

“What also surprised me that I hadn’t expected at all was how often children went straight to Google Images to find the answers to certain questions,” Professor Branscum said.

“Some kids would do the search then not even look at the search results but click on the Images tab and just use that information, looking through the images to get their answer.”

Moreover, researchers gave parents a standard print survey called the Health Literacy Skills Instrument. The survey can assess their own nutritional knowledge. Studies show the impact of parents’ nutritional literacy on children. Most parents rated as either “basic” or “proficient” on a three-point scale.

According to Professor Branscum, their findings reveal real weaknesses in the nutrition education system. The results can detect possible future problems in the public health system. The team also suggests that lack of knowledge among children today can lead to health problems when they grow up.

Professor Branscum plans to continue his research in the field by building a program to teach media health literacy to children. These literacy skills include determining which sources are credible, narrowing child-specific recommendations, understanding portion size, and perseverance to keep looking for the right information.

Screen time

In another study, data shows that preschoolers are overwhelmingly getting more screen time than is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) for children their age.

The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, showed that two-year-olds exceed the WHO recommended screen time guidelines 79% of the time while three-year-olds exceed it 95% of the time. The researchers examined the habits of 1,595 two-year-old children and the 1,994 three-year-old children in the study.

The study stated: “In high screen-viewing families, it may be difficult for parents to implement screen time guidelines without a supportive approach. Accordingly, it will be important to work together with families to devise family media plans that can be effectively implemented. This includes promoting opportunities for joint media engagement; deciding when, where, and how often screens are used; and reinforcing the need for sleep, physical activity, and device-free interactions to be prioritized to optimize child development.”

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