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Too Much Screen Time Does Affect Your Child’s Health – Three Effective Actions to Take
As an overweight child, I experienced living in the shadows – the shadows of my “friends” choosing sides on the playground for basketball games, and never choosing me. The shadows behind the open gym locker doors where girls would tease and boys would make rude comments. The shadow side of myself – never letting my light shine – who would want to draw attention to this mass of flesh? The emotional pain of being the “fat girl” far outweighed my physical limitations.
But by high school I grew tall, lost baby fat and played on the girls basketball team quite well. The boys still make rude comments about my body-but now they were of a different nature. I was at a normal weight, feeling energetic and healthy. For a while at least.
Adulthood brought back the battle of the woods. And brought into a depth of physical pain and discomfort I’m not sure how I got through as I look back on those years. Two decades of serious illness followed the birth of my sons. Healing took a lot of focused attention, competing for time with my precious boys, and of course healing and recovery with alternative therapies because traditional methods weren’t working – what was wrong with me? A lot Gallbladder problems – it had to be removed. Liver problems; poor digestion; insulin resistance. Childhood obesity increases the risk of adult health problems. I know this first hand.
My mother showed that she loved her children by feeding them too much rich Polish and Italian food; too many desserts. But we always played for hours outside during the day walking in the forest collecting leaves, twigs, flowers to make things; in the evening running wild catching fireflies in the summer or playing tag after dinner on school nights. We went outside, rain or shine, no matter how cold or hot, there was always some time moving in the backyard even if it was just five minutes to throw dry bread to sparrows looking for food in the five feet of an unexpected spring snowstorm. I am so grateful now that exercise was in my childhood equation. As an adult, I don’t abhor physical movement like many of my friends do. I look forward to it. It is what saved me.
Through my own tenacity and the good fortune of finding the right health care providers I am now blessed with great health. Although I will never be a size 8, I can at least walk/jog two to three miles a day, lift weights, do Yoga and Pilates and go on the occasional five mile hike. I can even bend over and touch my toes, something some kindergartners can’t even do.
That’s right. I was shocked when a colleague recently told me that 22 of her 27 kindergartners couldn’t touch their toes. Imagine tiny five-year-old bodies struggling and failing to do this simple act. Tragic.
Many of today’s children have too much of the wrong foods as a factor in their out-of-shape-condition-fast food packed with calories and lacking nutrition is one troubling 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 television, video game or computer. They don’t move enough during their 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 17 hours a week with their parents on average and 30 hours a week in school. (1)
When researching childhood obesity, researchers found that in 173 studies over the last three decades, 86% found a statistically significant relationship between increased media exposure and an increase in childhood obesity. 82% of the studies concluded that more hours of media predicted increased weight over time. A longitudinal study of 5,493 children reported 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 significant study showed that a large percentage (almost 36%) of US preschool children exceeded the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendation to limit media time to 2 hours or less per day. (Please note: I believe the AAP should have a stronger recommendation for preschool children stating no more than 30 minutes per day of TV/DVD/computer use.) The study concluded that interventions to prevent and treat obesity in preschool children by reducing TV/ a video. viewing is guaranteed. (3)
However, by age 12 months, the average baby watches about an 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 daily decisions parents make every day begin to add up to many positives for children’s optimal health as screen time decreases and other appropriate activities increase.
By making a change, even a small step in the right direction goes a long way toward improving children’s well-being and their future adult health as well.
Parents: Start Today to Reduce Screen Time and Get More Done by:
1. Eat together as a family.
Kids make healthier food choices when they eat with mom or dad! One research study even proved that families who eat dinner together with the TV off eat more fruits and vegetables than those who eat separately or have a family dinner with the TV on. (7)
2. Exercising together as a family.
Family bike rides, hikes, walks in a local park or other movement activities not only support the movement needs of the child or adolescent but also provide powerful models for valuing exercise as an integral part of everyday life.
3. Giving your child/teen opportunities to exercise.
Maybe it’s not safe for the kids to go outside by themselves? Jumping rope in the garage, jumping on an old re-jumper, or shooting hoops just outside the kitchen window with the lights on are ways to think “out of the 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 “parents’ 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 done sparingly and wisely.
Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2010. All Rights Reserved.
1. Media and Child and Adolescent Health: A Systematic Review, Conducted by Yale University School of Medicine and National Institutes of Health and California Pacific Medical Center, November 2008.
3. “Television viewing, computer use, obesity and fatness 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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