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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 playground for basketball games and never picking me. The shadows behind the open gym locker doors where girls giggled and boys made 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 exceeded my physical limitations.
But by high school I had grown up, lost the baby fat, and played quite skillfully on the girls basketball team. Guys still make 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 brought the battle of the bulges again. And it resulted in deep physical pain and discomfort, I’m not sure how I got over it as I look back on those years. Two decades of serious illness followed the birth of my children. Healing took 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 in adults. I know this firsthand.
My mother showed that she loved her children by feeding them too much rich Polish and Italian food; too much dessert But we always played for hours outside of the day walking through the forest collecting leaves, twigs, flowers to make things with; in the evenings running wild catching fireflies in the summer or playing tag after dinner on school nights. We went outside, rain or shine, no matter how hot or cold it was, there was always time to move around in the backyard, even if it was just five minutes to throw dry bread at the sparrows foraging five feet away. an unexpected spring snowstorm. I am so thankful now that exercise was in the equation in my childhood. As an adult, I don’t loathe physical movement like many of my friends do. I look forward to it. It’s what saved me.
Thanks to my own tenacity and the luck of finding the right health care providers, I am now blessed with great health. While I will never be a size 8, I can at least walk/run two to three miles a day, lift weights, do yoga and pilates, and do the occasional five-mile hike. I can even bend down and touch my toes, which some kindergartners can’t even do.
It’s right. 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. tragic
Many of today’s children have too many of the wrong foods as a factor in their poor state of fast food full of calories and lack of nutrition is a distressing example. But another major 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 nearly 53 hours a week on 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)
Investigating childhood obesity, researchers found that in 173 studies over the past three decades, 86% found a statistically significant relationship 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 reported that those who spent more than eight hours a week watching TV at age three were significantly more likely to be obese at age seven.
Another significant study showed that a substantial percentage (almost 36%) of US preschoolers exceeded the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendation to limit media time to 2 hours or less per day . (Please note: I think the AAP should have a stronger recommendation for preschoolers of no more than 30 minutes of TV/DVD/computer use per day.) The study concluded that interventions to prevent and treat obesity in preschool children by reducing television/video viewing are warranted. (3)
However, by 12 months of age, the average baby is watching about an hour of television a day, despite the AAP’s recommendation of no more than 2 years of age.
All of this is overwhelming 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 positive aspects 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 toward improving children’s well-being and their future health as adults.
Parents: Start today to reduce screen time and do more:
1. Eat together as a family.
Kids make healthier food choices when they eat with mom or dad! One research study even showed that families who eat dinner with the TV off eat more fruits and vegetables than those who eat separately or eat a family dinner with the TV on. (7)
2. Exercise together as a family.
Family bike rides, hikes, walks in a local park, or other movement activities not only support a child’s or teen’s movement needs, but also provide powerful models for valuing exercise as an integral part of daily life
3. Give your child/adolescent opportunities to exercise.
Maybe it’s not safe for kids to go out alone? Jumping rope in the garage, bouncing on an old bounce house, or shooting hoops right outside the kitchen window with the lights on are all ways to think “outside the fear box,” keeping kids safe while encouraging movement . But also give children and teenagers as much outdoor time as you can. A great place to get good ideas is Green Hour dot org. Sponsored by the Wildlife Foundation, this site describes itself 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 in moderation 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. “TV 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, 25 September 2007. http://www.ijbnpa.org/content/4/1/44
Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2010. All rights reserved.
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