Screen Time and the Childhood Obesity Epidemic
Approximately 20% of adolescents in the U.S. today are obese or overweight. With the number of obese and overweight younger children close behind, this epidemic has lasting implications for the future.
“The difficulty really comes in that once an adolescent is obese they more than likely will remain obese into and through their adulthood. There is no easy fix. It takes time, hard work, and a drive to change habits that have been established for a long time,” says Garry Sigman, MD, a pediatrician and obesity expert at Loyola University Health System and associate professor of pediatrics at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
Some non-genetic behavioral risk factors for children include:
• Mother who is obese or diabetic
Many of these factors are linked to a common feature of modern youth lifestyle—too much screen time. According Sigman, there is a direct correlation between time spent in front of a screen and number of patients who are obese.
“Unsupervised TV watching is terrible for kids. It has a hypnotic effect that causes us to move less and burn fewer calories. Eating in front of the TV is made worse by ads for food that makes people of all ages have the desire to eat more, even if not hungry,” says Sigman.
We move more when we are reading a book or even playing a video game, so both are better than watching TV, says Sigman. Getting away from the screen and really moving are integral to battling the obesity epidemic and needs to be priorities of parents.
“Parents need to limit their children to two hours of screen time at home a day,” says Sigman. “This needs to be a rule and one that’s enforced. It’s time consuming for parents and it’s a lot of hard work, but it really could be a factor in whether you have a healthy child or not.”
Screen time also impacts a child’s sleep, which is another risk factor for obesity. Sigman says there should be no television in a child’s room. And close to bedtime, there should be limited access to computers, cell phones, video games, iPods, etc.
Still, Sigman believes it goes beyond the family to whole communities making changes to really make a dent in the epidemic.
“We need to create safe places for kids to play outside. Safety is a real issue for parents,” says Sigman. “Though organized sports are wonderful, they aren’t for all kids. Kids need free play. They need to be able to run and ride their bikes, but if there aren’t sidewalks or safe playgrounds, kids are stuck inside on a computer or in front of the TV.”
— Source: Loyola University Health System