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Too Much Screen Time Does Affect Your Child’s Health – Three Effective Actions to Take
As an overweight kid, I experienced life in the shadows – the shadows of my “friends” picking sides on the basketball court, but never picking me. Shadows behind open gym locker doors where girls would laugh and boys make rude comments. The shadow side of me – never letting my light shine – who would want to draw attention to this mass of flesh? The emotional pain of being a “fat girl” far outweighed my physical limitations.
But by high school, I had grown, lost my baby fat, and played on the girls’ basketball team quite proficiently. Guys still made rude comments about my body – but now they were of a different nature. I was at a normal weight, felt energetic and healthy. At least for a while.
Adulthood has brought back the battle of the bulge. And thrust into a depth of physical pain and discomfort, I’m not sure how I fared as I look back on those years. Two decades of serious illness followed the birth of my sons. Healing required a lot of focused attention, competing for time with my precious boys, and of course healing and recovery time with alternative therapies because traditional methods weren’t working – what was wrong with me? A lot. Gallbladder problems-had to be removed. Liver problems; poor digestion; insulin resistance. Childhood obesity increases the risk of health problems as adults. I know this first hand.
My mother showed that she loved her children by feeding them too much Polish and Italian food; too much dessert. But we always played outside for hours, walking in the woods gathering leaves, twigs, flowers to make things; evening runs catching fireflies in the summer or playing after dinner on school nights. We went outside, rain or shine, no matter how cold or hot, there was always time to move around the yard, even if it was just five minutes to throw dry bread to sparrows looking for food in five meters of an unexpected spring snowstorm. I am now so grateful that exercise was in my childhood equation. As an adult, I don’t hate physical movement like many of my friends. I’m looking forward to it. That saved me.
Thanks to my own persistence and the luck of finding the right healthcare professionals, I am now blessed with excellent health. Although I will never be a figure 8, I can at least walk/run two or three miles a day, lift weights, do yoga and pilates, and do the occasional five mile walk. They can even bend down and touch their toes, something some kindergarteners can’t do.
It’s true. I was shocked when a colleague recently told me that 22 of her 27 kindergartners couldn’t touch their toes. Imagine little five-year-old bodies struggling and failing to do this simple act. Tragically.
Many children today have too many of the wrong foods as a factor in their out of shape – fast food packed with calories and lack of nutrition is one disturbing example. But another significant factor in the current alarming rise in childhood obesity is the amount of time young people spend sitting in front of a TV, video game or computer. They don’t move enough during the day.
The average modern child spends almost 53 hours a week with television, movies, the Internet, mobile phones and video games. In comparison, children spend an average of 17 hours a week with their parents and 30 hours a week at school. (1)
Examining childhood obesity, researchers found that in 173 studies over the past three decades, 86% found a statistically significant link between increased media exposure and an increase in childhood obesity. 82% of studies concluded that more hours of media predicted weight gain over time. A longitudinal study of 5,493 children found that those who spent more than eight hours watching television per week at age three were significantly more likely to be obese at age seven.
Another notable study found that a significant percentage (nearly 36%) of US preschool children exceeded the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendation to limit media time to 2 hours or less per day. (Note: I believe the AAP should have a stronger recommendation for preschoolers stating no more than 30 minutes per day of TV/DVD/computer use.) The study concluded that interventions to prevent and treat obesity in preschoolers by reducing TV/video viewing is guaranteed. (3)
Yet by age 12 months, the average baby watches about one hour of television a day, despite the AAP’s recommendation of no screen time before age 2.
All this is sobering news. However, there is hope on the horizon if parents take this information to heart. The everyday decisions parents make every day start to add up to many positive things for optimal child health when screen time is reduced and other appropriate activities are increased.
Changes, even a small step in the right direction, go a long way toward improving children’s well-being and their future health as adults.
Parents: Start today to reduce your screen time and do more than:
1. Food together as a family.
Children choose healthier food when they eat with mom or dad! One study even found that families who ate dinner together with the TV off ate more fruits and vegetables than those who ate separately or had a family dinner with the TV on. (7)
2. Exercise together as a family.
Family bike rides, hikes, walks in the local park, or other movement activities not only support a child’s or teen’s need for movement, but also provide powerful models for valuing exercise as an integral part of everyday life.
3. Give your child/teen a chance to exercise.
Maybe it’s not safe for kids to go outside alone? Jumping rope in the garage, bouncing on an old curb, or shooting hoops in front of the kitchen window with the lights on are ways to think “out of the fear box,” keeping kids safe while encouraging movement. But also give children and teenagers as much time outside as you can. A great place to get good ideas is Green Hour dot org. Sponsored by the Wildlife Foundation, this site is described as “a parent’s place for nature, play and learning” with lots of great ideas for family outdoor activities. Yes, we can use screen machines and screen time in the service of our children’s optimal health – if we do it sparingly and wisely.
Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2010. All rights reserved.
1. Media and Child and Adolescent Health: A Systematic Review, by Yale University School of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health and California Pacific Medical Center, November 2008.
3. “Television viewing, computer use, obesity and adiposity in US preschool children”, Jason A Mendoza1, Fred J Zimmerman and Dimitri A Christakis,
International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, September 25, 2007 http://www.ijbnpa.org/content/4/1/44
Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2010. All rights reserved.
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