Posted tagged ‘media’

Cell phones are not causing teens to grow horns: WaPo blows it

June 22, 2019

The Pediatric Insider

© 2019 Roy Benaroch, MD

Last week the Washington Post (“Democracy Dies in Darkness”) ran this headline: “’Horns’ are growing on young people’s skulls. Phone use is to blame, research suggests.”

The headline is entirely correct except for a few minor points:

  • They’re not horns, which point up from the forehead. They’re more like little ½ inch nubs protruding downwards from the back of the skull.
  • They’re not new. There’s no comparison group to show that these are more or less common than they used to be.
  • They’re not “growing” on people’s skulls. There was no follow-up to show that they’re getting larger. They’re just “there”, and may always have been there.
  • Phone use isn’t to blame. Phone use habits weren’t even recorded, and no comparison between phone users and non-users was possible.
  • No research has suggested that any of the headline is accurate.

The article stems from two studies performed in 2018 by a chiropractor and a specialist in biomechanics, both from Australia. One study was on four teenagers whose parents brought them into a chiropractor to address their poor posture. Lumps were noted on their skull x-rays (Why were skull x-rays are needed to assess posture? Who knows. At least there wasn’t something important like a brain being irradiated for no reason. But I digress.) The authors speculated that perhaps the bony lumps appeared as a result of biomechanical stress from the teens’ leaning forward to look at their phones. It’s not an entirely outlandish idea – bones can and do remodel in response to mechanical stress. But it was only an idea, and an entirely untested idea at that. No one had asked the teens if they had used cell phones, or for how many hours; and there was no mention of any symptoms or problems the teens had (other than that their posture was upsetting to their parents.) And there was no comparison between phone users and non-users to help establish that phone use could be correlated with those bone lumps.

Later in 2018, the same authors reviewed 1200 x-rays from patients seen at chiropractic clinics. They found that 33% had these prominent boney lumps on the back of their heads—prominent meaning more than 10 mm, or about ½ an inch. There was no mention of cell phone use; there was no comparison group; and there was no correlation with any symptoms whatsoever. And certainly – I can’t stress this enough – the boney lump nub things did not look like horns.

I think the WaPo editor just like the idea of a headline including the words Horns, Growing, Skulls, Phone, and Blame. That’s a magical combination. Really: put those words in any order, and it’s a winner. But that doesn’t make it an accurate headline.

Don’t get me wrong: when you look around, you do see people hunching forward, clutching their phones. That can’t be good for posture. And I could see that contributing to neck and back pain. But to go from there to “Phones are to blame for head horns” is, well, ridiculous. WaPo, you really should have done better.

Hey! D’ya looking critically at media stories of health issues, maybe poking a little fun, and sometimes finding real gems of good reporting? Learn how to read studies and media reports with a skeptic’s eye, and how to find good, reliable health info in the news. Check out my 5-star course, A Skeptic’s Guide to Health, Medicine, and the Media. You can buy it or stream it, or get the audio-only from Audible. It’s fabulous!

BONUS mix -n- match headline section! Combine the words Horns, Growing, Skulls, Phone, and Blame to make your own Washington Post Style Headline! Put your favorites in the comments! I’ll start:

  • Blame Phone Skulls for Horn Growing
  • Horny Teen Blames Growing Phone Skull
  • Skull Growing? Blame Phone Horn

 

How much media use is too much? The AAP weighs in

October 21, 2016

The Pediatric Insider

© 2016 Roy Benaroch, MD

Today, the American Academy of Pediatrics released two new policy statements outlining their official recommendations for media use in children and adolescents. Media, here, means television, video games, tablets, apps – pretty much anything with a screen. We know this kind of entertainment has become a huge part of our lives. How much is too much, and how do we ensure that media is being used wisely and safely? The policy and accompanying technical report rely on hundreds of solid references, providing the best answers based on the best science we know about how children learn and interact with the world of media.

Younger children, less than 2, need exploration and social interactions to learn best. They cannot learn from traditional “media”, at least not on their own. Some learning via electronics can begin by age 15 months, but only via caretakers participating with their children and reteaching the content in an interactive way. By 2 years, we know children can learn word skills by live video-chatting with a responsive adult, or by using apps that reward the child for choosing the right answers.

Preschoolers, aged 3 to 5, can boost their literacy and cognitive skills by watching well-designed TV programs (like Sesame Street.) However, higher-order thinking skills like task persistence, impulse control, and flexible thinking are still best learned during truly social, interactive play – and that’s just not something media can provide.

There are some specific medical concerns raised by media use in young children. Heavy media use increases the risk of obesity, by filling time with sedentary activity and exposing children to unhealthful food advertising. And increased media use directly corresponds to less sleep for children (this is especially true for evening exposures, before bedtime, which interfere with sleep onset, sleep quality, and sleep duration.)

Excessive media use in early childhood is also associated with cognitive, language, and social delays. Some of these associations depend on exactly what’s being watched — switching from violent to pro-social content has been shown to improve preschool behavior, especially in boys. There’s also concern that excessive media use by parents can interfere with other family activities, and may model and reinforce media excess in their children.

With all of this in mind, the AAP has made these specific recommendations for young children and media use:

  • Under 18 months, discourage all media use (other than video chatting with family. Facetime and Skype are OK.)
  • From 2-5 years, limit all media, combined, to a total of less than 1 hour per day of high quality shows. These should be shared together between parents and children.
  • No screens at all during meals and for 1 hour before bedtime.
  • Parents should keep bedrooms, mealtimes, and parent-child playtime screen free.

The AAP had a second policy statement about media use in school aged children and adolescents. There’s good evidence for some benefits of media use at this age, including exposures to new ideas and information, and opportunities for community engagement and collaboration. Social media can help children access support networks, which may be especially valuable for kids with ongoing illnesses or disabilities. Media can provide good opportunities to learn about healthy behaviors, like smoking cessation and balanced nutrition.

But: there’s a down side, too. There are risks for obesity and sleep problems with excessive or untimely media use. Children who overuse online media are at risk problematic, addiction-like media usage, sometimes characterized by a decreased interest in real-life relationships, unsuccessful attempts to cut back, and withdrawal symptoms.

Many teens use media at the same time they’re engaged in other tasks, like homework. They may think they’re learning, but good objective data shows that no one can truly multitask like that. And, of course, though media can deliver positive, healthful information, parents need to be wary of some of the misinformation that’s out there. Information about nutrition, vaccines, and exercise is often misleading or flat-out wrong. Kids can easily find material actually promoting risky health behaviors like eating disorders, sexual promiscuity, and self-mutilation.

There are also significant risks from cyberbullying, sexting, and online solicitation – issues that are especially problematic because the perpetrators may be anonymous. The internet has created some horrifying opportunities for the exploitation of children.

Bottom line, here’s what the AAP recommends for these school aged children and adolescents:

  • Families are encouraged to create their own Media Use Plan. This addresses how media is accessed, both how much and what kind. Consistent limits and a clear and explicit understanding of expectations is crucial. Families should work on these plans together.
  • Children should not sleep with their devices in their bedrooms (parents shouldn’t either.)
  • Media shouldn’t be used during schoolwork, family meals, or other family-designated “media free times.”
  • Parents should engage in selecting and co-viewing media with their kids.
  • There needs to be ongoing discussions of online citizenship and safety.

The AAP’s new policy doesn’t include a specific amount or number of hours of media time is recommended for children and teens. But media use should be limited, so there’s time for exercise, adequate sleep, and other activities. How much media is too much? For teens, when it prevents them from participating in other activities they ought to be doing. Media has become a huge part of all of our lives, but there needs to be time for other things, too.

My hero

The AAP weighs in on organic food, and the media blows it. Again.

October 23, 2012

The Pediatric Insider

© 2012 Roy Benaroch, MD

Perhaps I’ve been a little harsh on the media ‘round here lately. After all, I just wrote about a study that clearly showed that acupuncture was no better than placebo—yet was widely reported to have said the opposite.  And last month, I shockingly revealed that the alleged “let babies cry it out” paper didn’t actually look at any group of babies that was left to cry at bedtime, despite what was widely reported.

But I’m not a journalist. I don’t even touch-type correctly. Maybe them high-falootin’ newspaper writers know something I don’t. Maybe I should leave the science reporting to the science reporters, who (after all) are Paid Professionals.

Nah.

Today, the AAP released a “clinical report” on organic food during their big gala yearly convention. You want to know what it says? Let’s peruse the headlines:

“Docs say choose organic food to reduce kids’ exposure to pesticides” says NPR.

“Organic food no better than conventional for kids, pediatricians say” reports NBC.

Huh. Two respected outlets, two completely different conclusions from the same report. But let’s not just pick on traditional media—what do some newer sources say?

“AmericanAcademy of Pediatrics’ clinical report highlights benefits of organic” says Yahoo.

But Huffpo’s headline reads: “Organics provide no ‘meaningful nutritional benefits’, pediatricians say.”

Spinning: it’s not just for politicians anymore! One might wonder—did these reporters even read the same study?

Well, you can count on me. I did read it, and so can you, right here. It’s called “Organic Foods: Health and Environmental Advantages and Disadvantages.” The AAP’s conclusion:

In terms of health advantages, organic diets have been convincingly demonstrated to expose consumers to fewer pesticides associated with human disease. Organic farming has been demonstrated to have less environmental impact than conventional approaches. However, current evidence does not support any meaningful nutritional benefits or deficits from eating organic compared with conventionally grown foods, and there are no well-powered human studies that directly demonstrate health benefits or disease protection as a result of consuming an organic diet.

It’s similar to what I’ve written before: Organic and conventional foods are nutritionally identical, though organic foods overall are less likely to have pesticide and other chemical residue. There is no good evidence that the chemicals that may be in conventional foods are harmful. Still, if you want to avoid these exposures, wash or peel your fruits and veggies well. Or buy organic.

The AAP report also briefly discusses the environmental impact of organic farming, which causes less chemical pollution. However, more land is needed to get the same amount of food when farming is done without chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

The report is brief, and I don’t think summarizing it was very difficult. I shouldn’t be surprised that so many news outlets sensationalized and spun their headlines to make the story seem more edgy. You want cool headlines? Visit big media sites. You want to know the real story? Visit here.