Too much time wrapped up in media, too little activity and not enough sleep is as likely to result in depression among teens as other well-documented risk factors, according to a new study published in World Psychiatry recently. Scientists surveyed more than 12,000 students between the ages of 14 and 16, asking them about eight potential risk factors for depression: excessive drinking, using drugs, smoking heavily, truancy, high media use, lack of sleep, a lack of exercise and weight issues (either being overweight or underweight). About 13% of the teens surveyed were high in every possible category, and of these high-risk kids, about 15% reported signs of depression (compared to just 4% who scored low in the risk categories). But researchers also found that the 29% of teens who had high scores in media usage, lack of sleep and lack of exercise—forming what researchers call the "invisible risk" group—were almost as prone to be depressed (13% of them, in fact) as those who scored high in all risk categories.
Meanwhile, a separate study conducted by researchers at Kent State University indicates that college students who use their smartphones frequently are more likely to suffer higher anxiety, have lower grade-point averages and be less happy than their less tech-tethered peers. [time.com, 2/13/14; kent.edu, 12/6/13 stats, c&e]
"With a 13-year-old son being continually bombarded by media, I can't help but notice how standards have evolved since I was 13. … My issue isn't really with today's youth. Of course they are drawn to what is edgy and placed in opposition to their parents. I don't blame them for being attracted to that. … My real problem is with those in the entertainment industry who aggressively market content clearly intended for an older audience to a much younger audience. There is a real disconnect when singers such as Katy Perry and Pitbull are featured on the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards. If you have ever listened to their music—and I have—there is a significant amount of profanity and sexual innuendo in many of their songs. … And it isn't just music. When both Transformers movies were released, they were relentlessly marketed to elementary school-age children through toys, video games and McDonald's Happy Meals. Yet, those movies were rated PG-13 for a reason. Between language, overt sensuality, and mind-numbing violence, they really weren't made for 7-year-olds. … Parents who don't want their children to be prematurely exposed to adult language and themes must remain constantly vigilant. Because the entertainment and marketing machine refuses to draw what I believe are reasonable age lines for content, parents are now forced to take sides against Nickelodeon and McDonald's and iTunes and DreamWorks and Paramount. That's a hard battle to win."
—Tom Cavanagh, columnist for the University of South Florida forum [huffingtonpost.com, 3/5/14]
An analysis of data from the Monitoring the Future survey recently published in the International Journal of Drug Policy suggests that teens who've never tried marijuana before are more likely to do so if the drug is legalized (as it already is in Colorado and Washington). Specifically, researchers found that 5.6% of low-risk high school seniors—those who've never used pot, have a strong ethical background and don't have marijuana-using friends—would try the drug if it was legal. If those figures were added to the 45.6% of seniors who already say they've used marijuana before, it would push the national usage rate among that age group to 51.2%. [cbsnews.com, 2/26/14 c&e]
E-cigarettes are often marketed as an alternative to the real thing. But according to a new study, middle and high schoolers who use e-cigs are actually more likely to smoke tobacco-based cigarettes as well—and less likely to quit. Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California/San Francisco and the lead author of the study, believes that electronic cigarettes are doing more harm than good. "The use of e-cigarettes does not discourage, and may encourage, conventional cigarette use among U.S. adolescents," he wrote. But other experts aren't so sure. Another possible interpretation is that youth who gravitate toward e-cigs were already heavier users, and thus more addicted to smoking to begin with. [nytimes.com, 3/6/14 c&e]
Youth who consume alcohol have more friends than those who don't, according to research from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service's Administration's Center For Behavior Health Statistics and Quality. The organization says kids who drink have higher "social connectedness" than their more sober peers. And getting drunk can increase teens' social standing even more. Researchers aren't suggesting that teens should run out and guzzle beer to get more popular: just the opposite, in fact. They note that underage drinking "is linked to a long list of adverse health and behavioral consequences." But when it comes to increasing one's social standing, many teens chuck such concerns and engage in whatever might make them more popular.
The key to reversing these trends, according to experts, is parents, as previous studies have shown that moms and dads can be instrumental in steering their children away from drugs and alcohol. "Adults often avoid teens like the plague, but then we're surprised when, left to their own devices, they develop values with which we're not comfortable," says Joseph P. Allen of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. "If we don't engage with teens—by getting them involved in volunteer service, encouraging their participation in civic activities and debates and just talking to them—then we can't be too surprised when their values are largely those that appear in the online and popular media." [Reuters, 1/8/14 c&e]
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, only 15% of frequent prescription drug abusers get their drugs from dealers or other strangers. More than half of those studied said they got their drugs―that often include opioid pain relievers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone―from friends and relatives. Dr. Leonard Paulozzi, a CDC researcher, said overall prevalence of nonmedical use of prescription opioid painkillers is at a level of about 12 million cases per year―or 1 in 20 people ages 12 and older. Overdoses of these drugs accounted for some 16,000 deaths in 2010. [usatoday.com, 3/3/14 stats]
Cultural commentators have been debating Barbie's potentially negative influence for decades. Now, however, there's a new doll hitting store shelves dubbed Lammily, and her motto is "Average is beautiful." The doll's body shape is based on U.S. Centers for Disease Control data for the 19-year-old American woman. And its science-derived measurements are intended to promote "realistic standards of beauty," says the toy's creator, graphic designer Nickolay Lamm. [theatlantic.com, 3/5/14]
"If an actress attempts to turn back the clock by going under the knife, [she] can expect every wrinkle and fold to be observed under the media microscope. Still, Botox injections and facelifts are a double-edged sword. Done incorrectly, they can land an actress on the receiving end of hate-tweeting. But done right, they can extend her shelf-life in a hyper-competitive industry that revolves around youthfulness. Most members of the sniping press and snarking Twittersphere aren't exercising moral or (even general aesthetic) objections to plastic surgery: they're not saying that actresses shouldn't go under the knife, but that they should know when to quit."
—The Daily Beast's Lizzie Crocker, on critical backlash faced by aging stars such as 81-year-old Kim Novak, whose appearance as a presenter at this year's Academy Awards ignited a firestorm of social media snarkiness at her expense. Newly minted MSNBC host Ronan Farrow said of some of the mean-spirited comments, "Half the people being cruel about Kim Novak are 10 years away from being Kim Novak." [thedailybeast.com, 3/6/14]
"The controversy is all about the unknown and about the fear of people trying to exploit a Bible story. It will all disappear as soon as people start seeing the film."
—Noah director Darren Aronofsky, speaking at a promotional art exhibit (titled "Fountains of the Deep: Visions of Noah and the Flood") for his forthcoming film. Aronofsky also said, "The film was made for believers and nonbelievers. I'm more concerned about getting nonbelievers into the theater or people who are less religious. A lot of people are thinking, 'Oh, I don't want to go see a Bible movie,' but we completely shook up all expectations, and people will see that as soon as they sit down and watch the movie." [foxnews.com, 3/7/14; telegraph.co.uk 3/6/14]
How much time have gamers collectively invested in Activision's Call of Duty franchise? According to Popular Science, the aggregate amount of gameplay time fans have spent on the popular video game series is estimated to be 2.9 million years. [Popular Science, 3/14]