It's been repeated many times: Many Americans are overweight.
Now obesity is creeping into childhood, affecting about 20 percent of children in the United States. Heart disease, diabetes and other problems connected with obesity used to be adult medical concerns; however, with the increase in obesity in children, these medical problems are now starting in childhood.
One of the biggest contributors to childhood obesity is the increase in screen time. The average child today watches four or more hours a day of television. Because nearly half (48 percent) of all families with children have TVs, DVDs, video game equipment and computers, the likelihood is that a lot of time is spent sitting in front of a screen.
How can you minimize screen time without wreaking havoc in your home? Here are some ideas to consider:
- Set a limit on the amount of screen time each child can have and be consistent. Consider using an alarm clock or timer in case you or your child loses track of time.
- Relocate the television and/or computer. It's difficult to monitor screen time when your child is isolated from the rest of the family.
- Turn off the TV at meal time. Without the interference of the television, it can be fun to have family conversations and share the day's happenings. Research has also shown that families who eat together eat healthier meals.
- Be a positive role model. If you enjoy hours of screen time yourself, it's going to be hard to convince your child about the importance of limiting screen time. Kids love spending time with their parents and screen time interferes with that special time together.
- Help your child find other fun things to do. Activities can be reading, learning a hobby, a sport, an instrument or an art; or spending time with friends or neighbors.
- Get active. Watch TV with your children and use the time during commercials to get active. Do jumping jacks or toe touches to help get the wiggles out of your kids and help them burn calories, too. Help them understand why it's not a good idea to be a couch potato.
- Monitor screen time. Go to www.nhlbi.nih.gov and print off a screen log. Go to www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/wecan. Click on Reduce Screentime. There is a pdf of the screen log under Log Screen Time vs. Active Time. Post the screen log where all family members can keep track of their screen time.
Once you know how much time your family members spend watching TV or DVDs, playing video games and using it for surfing the Internet, you can decide what steps to take next — aiming for less than two hours per day for each child
Remember that all the time spent in front of a screen is potential time that could be invested in physical activity.
For more ideas and ways to help your children become more physically active, go to www.letsmove.gov.
Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.