Cutting Screen Time May Reduce Childhood Obesity

Healthy Living

By Len Saunders, MA, guest author for

Could technology be the number one cause in the rise of childhood obesity? Where 'children and play' were natural companions 25 years ago, it appears that 'children and technology' are becoming even closer companions. Technology has helped society with advancements in medicine, communication, and entertainment, but it may be responsible for the rise in childhood obesity. Olympic gold medalist Shannon Miller agrees, "The amount of screen time our children have from such an early age is concerning particularly with the rate of childhood obesity in this country. Childhood obesity can lead to type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and other major health issues. Limiting screen time allows for more family time, increased physical activity and an overall balance in lifestyle."

Things have changed drastically over the last few decades. Television only had a handful of channels 25 years ago, now there are hundreds of channels, some catering to children with 24 hour a day programming. Throw into the loop other forms of technology, children have become very sedentary.
According to the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation, children ages 8-18 spend the following amount of time in front of the screen, daily:

> Approximately 7.5 hours using entertainment media
> Approximately 4.5 hours watching TV
> Approximately 1.5 hours on the computer
> Over an hour playing video games

Here are some suggestions to reduce technology time from Melinda Kelley, Ph.D. and Melissa McGowan, MHS, CHES, both of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

> When parents set ANY media rules, children's media use is almost three hours lower per day.

> Use of screen time logs may help parents recognize how much screen time their children are engaged in. Parents can chart how much non-work time their families are actually spending in front of the television/computer/phone/iPad - the results may be surprising.

> Parents should avoid taking away TV/computer time as a reward or punishment. This can make screen time seem like a more important activity.

> Dinner time should be family time. Parents can implement a "no devices" rule (for adults, too!) during family meals.

> Parents can make screen time active time - when families are watching TV, they can stretch, do yoga or have a family challenge as to who can complete the most sit-ups or push-ups during commercial breaks.

> Parents should keep screens out of kids' bedrooms - children with TVs in their rooms spend an hour more in front of the screen (daily) than do those without TVs.

Reducing 'playtime' technology in children takes a little discipline, and sometimes creativity. Taking it away cold turkey may not be the answer. Sometimes, a healthy compromise may be the answer, meaning "if you can't fight them, join them." For example, if your child watches too much television, have them try to 'commercial-cize.' This means during each commercial break they have to get off the couch and exercise, whether running in place, push-ups, or jumping rope. They must commit to this and be honest in their approach. If a child watches four hours of TV programing each night, they could get almost 40 minutes of exercise each day if they 'commercial-cize.'

Janet E. Fulton, PhD, from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that parents "Help kids stay active. Children imitate adults. Start adding physical activity to your own daily routine and encourage your child to join you. Some examples of moderate and vigorous intensity physical activities include brisk walking, playing tag, jumping rope, playing soccer, swimming, dancing or biking."

She adds, remember, "Children need 1 hour of physical activity every day. Encourage your child to do age-appropriate activity that is enjoyable and fun!"


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About Len Saunders: He is the author of Keeping Kids Fit, and nationally recognized for his work in the fight against childhood obesity. You can learn more about his work from his web site