Instead of a reality show, how about a little reality?

TV-Turnoff Week aims to pry families off the couch, away from junk food


April 18, 2004|By Christina Santucci | Christina Santucci,Sun Staff

With two recent studies taking major pot shots at the boob tube, the folks at the TV-Turnoff Network are hoping that more people than usual will take heed and holster their remotes during the 10th annual TV-Turnoff Week starting tomorrow.

Whether you turn your TV off, hide it in the basement or kick it to the curb, the group says, everybody -- and especially children under 12 -- should pry themselves away from the screen for a few days and get moving.

"It's really a week about getting away from the electronic screens and re-engaging in real life," said Frank Vespe, executive network director of the TV-

Turnoff Network (, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C.

Broader scope

This year, TV is not the only target of the weeklong effort, which began under the network's predecessor, TV Free America, in 1994. Other sedentary entertainments such as video games and computers, Vespe says, especially when coupled with an unhealthy diet, also pose great risks for America's youth.

"The average school child watches 20 hours a week, and when you add that up over the course of the year, that [can] mean they spend more time watching television than learning in the classroom," he said. "While watching TV, children are being bombarded by commercials with salty snacks and sugary drinks convincing them to continue to sit in front of the tube."

Along with unhealthy weight gain, other risks recently tied to a child's overexposure to TV include increased chances of attention deficit disorder (ADD) and violent behavior.

A study published in the April edition of Pediatrics concluded that children ages 1 and 3 who were studied had a 10 percent greater risk of being affected with ADD at age 7 if they watched one hour of TV daily. According to the TV-Turnoff Network, the average American one-year-old watches six hours of TV a week.

In 2001, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that children aged 2 and younger should not watch any TV; older children, it said, should watch only one to two hours per day.

Violence seen is stored

For older children, who comprehend the material they are seeing on television, a study published at the end of March by the American Psychiatry Association revealed "unequivocal evidence that media violence increases the likelihood of aggressive and violent behavior [in children and youth]."

"We are not saying to people that they must throw out the TV. Our issue is really just the time spent watching television," said Vespe, who suggested walks, bike rides and even cloud-watching as child-friendly alternatives to cartoons and sitcoms.

"Children are watching a lot of junk, frankly," said Dr. Bill Maier, vice-president and psychologist for Focus on the Family. "A lot of what we see on [tele

vision] is not beneficial to child development.

"Television is a passive, mesmerizing medium," said Maier, adding that studies have linked eating while watching TV with poor nutrition in children.

Fear of the Off button

Parents are the key to keeping TV-watching in check, Vespe says -- a responsibility many are not comfortable with or willing to shoulder.

"A lot of times, you hear from parents, 'My kids loves X, Y or Z show,' and what they mean is that they are a little afraid of turning off the TV," Vespe said.

With the help of about 86 organizations and companies supporting the event, the TV-Turnoff Network hopes that this year the message will break through to parents, doctors and coaches of kids. They expect at least 7.5 million people to take part in the effort somehow.

But Vespe says he is confident that his message is already getting through to more people.

"When we got started 10 years ago, nobody was talking about too much TV-watching. [The medical and psychological studies] clearly have gotten people talking about and thinking about [it]," he said.

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