Racy Content on TV

May Encourage Teen Sex

Teenagers who watch a lot of television with sexual content are twice as likely to engage in intercourse than those who watch few such programs, according to a study published yesterday.

The study covered 1,792 adolescents age 12 to 17 who were asked about viewing habits and sexual activity and then surveyed again a year later. Both broadcast and cable television were included.

"This is the strongest evidence yet that the sexual content of television programs encourages adolescents to initiate sexual intercourse and other sexual activities," said Rebecca Collins, a Rand Corp. psychologist who headed the study, published in the journal Pediatrics.

"The impact of television viewing is so large that even a moderate shift in the sexual content of adolescent TV watching could have a substantial effect on their sexual behavior," she added.

The 12-year-olds who watched a lot of sexual content behaved like the 14- or 15-year-olds who watched the least amount, she said: "The advancement in sexual behavior we saw among kids who watched a lot of sexual television was striking."

The study found that youths who watched large amounts of programming with sexual content were also more likely to initiate sexual activities short of intercourse, such as oral sex. The survey did not break down the amount of sexual exposure in terms of hours per week or percentages of material viewed, Collins said.

Extra Hour of Exercise

May Cut Obesity in Girls

One extra hour of exercise a week could significantly cut obesity among overweight girls, according to a study that researchers say could lead to major changes in the way schools fight obesity.

The study of 11,000 children -- the largest look yet at obesity among young children -- did not show the same results for boys, possibly because they generally get more exercise than girls.

In the study, Rand Corp. researchers compared changes in the body-mass index -- a measure of weight relative to height -- of obese and overweight girls in kindergarten and first grade. They found that the prevalence of obesity and being overweight fell 10 percent in schools that gave first-graders one hour more of exercise time per week than their kindergartners.

The researchers believe that giving kindergartners at least five hours of physical education per week -- the amount recommended by the federal government -- could potentially reduce the prevalence of obesity and overweight among girls by 43 percent.

Kelly D. Brownell, an obesity researcher at Yale University, said the findings are significant because they demonstrate the importance of making sure children get adequate physical activity -- in or out of school. But he said exercise must accompany better eating habits to fully address the epidemic of childhood obesity.

Chickenpox Vaccine

Cuts Cases, Costs

Vaccinating children against chickenpox saves the health care system nearly $100 million a year in reduced hospitalizations for severe cases of the itchy disease, a University of Michigan study found.

Although most people who get the usually mild disease can be treated at home, chickenpox can be serious, and complications requiring hospitalization can include severe skin infections, encephalitis and pneumonia.

In 1993, two years before the government licensed the vaccine for routine use in early childhood, nearly 14,000 Americans were hospitalized for chickenpox-related complications at a cost of $161 million, compared with 3,729 hospitalizations and $66 million in related costs in 2001, the researchers estimated.

The reduction in the disease "is excellent news for the vaccine program," said lead researcher Matthew Davis, a University of Michigan pediatrician who said he is not affiliated with the vaccine makers. The study appears in Pediatrics.

Davis and colleagues analyzed 1993-2001 data from a nationally representative annual compilation of patients discharged from hundreds of hospitals nationwide, including information on costs and diagnoses.

Before 1995, 41 percent of patients hospitalized for chickenpox were children from infancy through age 4, compared with 33 percent for people age 20 and older. That pattern reversed by 2001, when 28 percent of chickenpox-related hospitalizations were very young children and 46 percent were adults, the researchers found.

-- From News Services