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Too Much Screen Time Does Affect Your Child’s Health – Three Effective Actions to Take
As an overweight kid, I lived in the shadows – the shadow of my “friends” picking sides on the playground for basketball games and never picking me. The shadows behind the open gym locker doors where the girls snickered and the boys made rude comments. The dark side of myself – never allowing my light to shine – who would call attention to this mass of flesh? The emotional pain of being the “fat girl” far outweighed my physical limitations.
But in high school, I had grown taller, lost baby fat, and played pretty well on the women’s basketball team. The boys always make rude comments about my body, but now they are of a different nature. I was normal weight, felt energetic and healthy. For a while at least.
Adulthood brought back the Battle of the Bulge. And ushered in a depth of physical pain and discomfort, I don’t know how I coped as I look back on those years. Two decades of serious illness followed the birth of my sons. Healing took a lot of attention, competing for time with my precious boys, and of course time to heal and recover with alternative therapies because traditional methods weren’t working – what the hell didn’t go with me? Many. Gallbladder problems – had to be removed. liver problems; poor digestion; insulin resistance. Childhood obesity increases the risk of health problems in adulthood. I know it first hand.
My mother showed her love for her children by feeding them too many rich Polish and Italian foods; too much dessert. But we always played for hours outside, walking in the woods during the day, picking up 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, cold or hot, there was always time to move in the backyard, even if there was only five minutes to throw dry bread to foraging sparrows within five feet of an unexpected spring snowstorm. I am so thankful now that exercise was part of my childhood equation. As an adult, I don’t hate physical movement like many of my friends do. I can’t wait. That’s what saved me.
Thanks to my own tenacity and luck finding the right health care providers, I am now blessed with excellent health. Although I’m never a size 8, I can at least walk/jog two to three miles a day, lift weights, do yoga and Pilates, and hike the occasional five mile. I can even bend over and touch my toes, which some kindergartners can’t even do.
That is 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 gesture. Tragic.
Many of today’s children have too many bad foods as a factor in their poor physical condition – fast food stuffed with calories and lacking in nutrition is a distressing example. But another important factor in today’s 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 throughout their day.
The average modern child spends nearly 53 hours a week watching television, movies, the Internet, cell 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)
Probing childhood obesity, researchers found that in 173 studies over the past three decades, 86% found a statistically significant relationship between increased media exposure and increased childhood obesity. 82% of studies concluded that more media hours predicted increased weight 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 large study showed that a substantial percentage (nearly 36%) of preschoolers in the United States 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 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 preschool children by reducing television/video viewing are warranted. (3)
Yet by age 12 months, the average baby watches TV for about an hour a day, despite the AAP’s recommendation not to spend time in front of a screen until age 2.
All of this is sobering news. Still, there is hope on the horizon if parents take this information to heart. The day-to-day decision that parents make every day begins to add up to a lot of positives for optimal child health when screen time is reduced and other appropriate activities are increased.
Making a change, even a small step in the right direction, goes a long way to improving children’s well-being and their future health as adults.
Parents: Start reducing screen time and doing more today:
1. Eating together as a family.
Kids make healthier food choices when they eat with mom or dad! A research study has even shown that families who eat dinner with the television off eat more fruits and vegetables than those who eat separately or have a family dinner with the television on. (7)
2. Exercise as a family.
Family bike rides, hikes, walks in a local park or other movement activities not only meet the movement needs of the child or adolescent, but also provide powerful models for enhancing the exercise as an integral part of daily life.
3. Give your child/adolescent opportunities to exercise.
Maybe it’s not safe for children to go out alone? Jumping rope in the garage, bouncing on an old bounce, or shooting hoops right outside the kitchen window with the lights on are ways to release fear, keep kids safe, and cheer up at the same time. movement. But also give kids and teens time outdoors as much as you can. Green Hour dot org is a great place to find great ideas. Sponsored by the Wildlife Foundation, this site is described as “the parents’ place for nature, play and learning” with many 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, 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 Adiposity Among Preschoolers in the United States,” 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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