Limiting TV Can Help Improve Kids' Health
MADISON – One of the easiest ways to help kids lose weight could be as simple as turning off the TV.
Celebrate Screen Free Week
Screen Free Week 2011 is April 18-24. During this annual event parents, kids, teachers and more turn off the television and computers and celebrate time away from the screens by participating in fun activities. To survive going screen free, try 101 Screen Free Activites you can do with your family.
Why Reducing Screen Time Helps
Research from the University at Buffalo found that overweight children aged four to seven who reduced their TV watching or computer time lost weight, even if they didn't exercise.
"Restricting time in front of the screen, whether it's a television, computer, or even hand-held device such as a video game, can help overweight kids lose weight, even if they don't increase their physical activity," said Alexandra Adams, MD, PhD, a family physician at UW Health's Pediatric Fitness Clinic and obesity researcher.
The issue, explained Dr. Adams, isn't necessarily the lack of physical activity; it is the eating habits that often accompany television viewing.
"When kids watch television, not only do they tend to eat mindlessly, they are bombarded by messages about what they should be eating. They often pressure parents to purchase those food items, which are largely unhealthy," Dr. Adams said.
When the fast foods, beverages and junk food that are frequently advertised during children's television programming are combined with the sedentary lifestyle, it's a recipe for weight gain.
Even kids as young as four can be influenced by the commercials they watch. The average child watches as many as four hours of TV a day. Yet the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a maximum of only two hours, regardless of whether it's television, computer or video games. That's why parents play a key role.
"Parents play a critical role in shaping their children's health," said Dr. Adams, "Whether it's purchasing the food and preparing the meals, or setting limits on the amount of TV and computer time. Unless they are willing to change and set the examples, they're not going to see changes in their children's health."
Dr. Adams acknowledges that it can be challenging to limit screen time, particularly when kids often have televisions and computers in their rooms. But it's a simple and important first step towards making healthy lifestyle changes.
For children who have weight or related medical concerns, or would like to improve their fitness, the UW Pediatric Fitness Clinic can help kids and families develop healthy habits for life.
Date Published: 04/23/2008