Featured Programs & Activities
Unplugged and Media Savvy: Reducing the Impact of Screen Time

The American Academy of Pediatrics and Institute of Medicine recommend limiting children’s screen time to no more than 2 hours per day. In Washington, 31% of sixth-grade youth, 61% in eighth and tenth grades, and 54% of 12th grade youth exceed this recommendation.

During the 2008-2009 school year, fourth and fifth grade students and their families in five schools in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho participated in testing interventions designed to reduce screen time and minimize the impact of media advertising of unhealthy foods to children. Unplugged and Media Savvy, a collaborative project of the University of Washington Center for Public Health Nutrition and The Northwest Center for Excellence in Media Literacy, is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Interviews and focus groups with parents, teachers & administrators informed the creation of fun and interactive materials and learning activities for families and students. Five intervention components were developed to reach students, families and the wider school community:

  1. Powerful Choices Media Literacy Curriculum: Teachers received materials and training to teach ten nutrition-focused, dynamic, media literacy lessons such as “Ads, Ads Everywhere, The Branding Alphabet!” and “The Media Critic’s 5 W’s: The tricks ads use to get children’s attention.”
  2. 30 Days Live!: Students experimented with a screen time break as a class and used a journal to track their leisure choices, snacks, mood, and discoveries as a result of trying to go “screen-free” for one month.
  3. Family KitFamily Kits: Intervention school families received five packets in the mail during the study year. Mailings included items like conversation cards, local area recreation maps, and other games designed to engage families and encourage activity. Newsletters, included in
    each packet, introduced the families to the project and provided information about media literacy, nutrition and screen time, and also provided resources to sustain healthful choices after the project.
  4. School-Wide Events:  Students in study classrooms helped plan a school-wide event, designed to showcase their screen-time and media literacy activities and teach other students and school staff about the importance of reducing screen time and about media advertising targeted to children.  Events included school-wide assemblies and family nights.
  5. Marketing and Screen Use Policies: School administrators were encouraged to explore the adoption of policies about food marketing and non-educational uses of screens at school.

Encouraging Smart Screen Time in the Summer Months

During summer 2009, the Center for Public Health Nutrition partnered with School’s Out Washington’s Feed Your Brain program to adapt and test the Powerful Choices intervention in a shorter summer format. Feed Your Brain sites sponsor the USDA/OSPI Summer Feeding Program in rural areas and receive grants and technical assistance to support literacy and academic enrichment activities. Four sites across the state pilot tested the materials and provided feedback. The materials were modified with their input and will be made more widely available to the summer 2010 Feed Your Brain sites. For information, email uwcphn@uw.edu.


UW Center for Public Health Nutrition,
UW Northwest Center for Media Literacy


Ten schools were paired as closely as possible according to demographic and other characteristics and randomly assigned to either the intervention or control group. The evaluation included:
1) feasibility of the intervention and study measures for administrators, schools, parents and students; 2) changes in behavioral capacity, expectations and self efficacy; 3) the impact of the intervention on hours of screen time, purchases of highly advertised foods, physical activity levels, and BMI. The research team is currently analyzing the data from the pilot project.