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Mr Epidemiology

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screen time

Do cartoons affect child attention spans?

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.org

EDIT 27/09/11: This piece was selected by Jason Goldman in his weekly roundup! Thanks Jason!

I was on the phone with my mom recently, and she told me about a recent study she saw on CTV stating that watching SpongeBob Squarepants was bad for children. I scoured the internet, and found the research article in question. While searching, I also found reference to the study in the media. The headlines were … disturbing. They ranged from the factual “SpongeBob may impair 4-year-olds’ brains” and “Young Attention Spans Impaired by SpongeBob and Rapid Games, Study Says” to the more controversial “So your four-year-old can’t concentrate? He’s probably been watching SpongeBob” and finally throwing all logic and reason out of the window and claiming “Study says SpongeBob makes kids stupid.” (Those are all the actual headlines) As you can imagine this just made me more interested in the actual paper itself – in particular if I would be able to use the line “Researchers call SpongeBob Stupid” and cite it.

A threat to your child's intelligence?

As someone who watched a fair share of Tom and Jerry, Looney Tunes and Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles  as a kid, I wanted to see how such claims were made, and what the actual study was. And yes, it was Teenage Mutant HERO Turtles. In the UK they changed the word Ninja to Hero, as Ninja had violent connotations. True story.

More after this word from our sponsors … (click read more)

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Using Video Games to Model Real Life Outbreaks

Those of you who know me know that I’m a video game nerd. And comic book nerd. And just nerdy nerd in general. So when I read an article that used World of Warcraft to model disease outbreaks, I jumped on it.

World of Warcraft is a MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) and forms the butt of many jokes in shows like Southpark, The Simpsons and others. I’ve never played it myself, but I lived with a guy who did so picked up a few things. Basically, you pick a player class (barbarian, wizard etc) and then join a “guild” and do quests together. These vary from the mundane to the epic (“kill this dragon”). It is, allegedly, a lot of fun. And a lot of that fun comes from being in a group of 50-60 like minded people, all playing out their fantasies as an elf, warlock, goblin etc.

World of Warcraft (WoW) has a very intricate world that has grown up around it. Gold provides an in-game economy, and treasures you gain from slaying foes give people items to trade. And since it is based around the actions of people, each quest can be very different from the last. Sometimes this can result in inadvertently hilarious consequences; the video below shows a guild meticulously planning their attack. However, when a player decides that he’s had enough, he runs in screaming his name (“LEEEEROOOOYYYYY JENNNKINNNSSSSS”). This results in his team panicking, and all their planning going to waste. To quote Robert Burns: “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley.” I’m pretty sure he was talking about WoW when he wrote that.

So you have this society with thousands of players all logging on regularly, heavily invested in their characters, spending anywhere upwards of 40-60 hours a week in the game. What happens when a “virus” is introduced into the game?

More after the loading screen … (click read more)

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How effective are interventions aimed at reducing “screen time” among youth?

Increased screen time is a problem among youth

Edit (14/07/11): Thanks to Gopinath for the article!

A common reason people give for the increased prevalence of childhood obesity is how youth spend more time in front of the TV/computer/video games now than they used to (a measure referred to as “screen time”). The average Canadian youth spends 6 hours in front of the TV/computer every weekday, and over 7 hours a day on the weekend (AHKC Report Card, 2011). So that begs the question – how can we reduce screen time?

Several interventions have been performed, and they have shown mixed results. But this could be due to a number of factors: the population they used, the methods they used or even chance. We can identify all the studies that have been done in this area using a systematic review, and then decide if they’re effective using a meta analysis. And that’s exactly what Wahi and colleagues did, in a study published in Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med this July.

More after the jump.

Continue reading “How effective are interventions aimed at reducing “screen time” among youth?”

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