Following on along the theme of technology and the brain, good bad or evil, this blog asks the question: Is too much screen time bad for children's health?
Paediatricians around the world in the US, UK, Canada and Australia have expressed concern about the amount of time kids are now spending in front of a computer.
The reason why is less to do with the content of what the children are watching and more to do with the fact that with increased screen time, there is less time for other things such as active play and sport.
Being physically inactive is one of the biggest health risks, and yet many people appear unaware that sitting on their bottom is in many ways shortening our lifespan. To many adults are sedentary spending too many hours sitting. We sit to work, spending hours on our computer screens. We sit at home perhaps being entertained by the TV or computer. We sit on our way to and from work, driving our cars.
The incidence of cancer, heart disease, obesity, stroke, depression and cognitive decline are all higher as a result of our lack of physical activity.
This is relating to adult health.
Think about the impact of lack of physical activity on our children.
It is estimated that by the age of 7, an average child will have spent an entire year (of 24 hours a day) watching T.V. or looking at a computer or playing video games. This increases to three whole years by the time they reach adulthood at 18.
By the age of 80 this is equivalent to 17.6 years!!
Dr Sigman reports that an average 10 year old in the U.K will have regular access to an average of five different screens at home: the Family T.V., perhaps their one T.V. in their bedroom, a Nintendo, a Playstation, smart phone, laptop or iPad.
The current recommendation is that children under the age of two should not spend any time watching screens, because of the adverse effect on brain development and attention spans.
Yet in the U.S. one on three American infants have a T.V. in their bedroom and around 50% of all infants watch T.V. or DVD's for almost 2 hours a day.
It is also recommended that children under the age of five need to be encouraged to be as physically active as possible, being on the go and mobile for at least three hours a day.
Screen time can easily be used as entertainment and a technological "babysitter" which is fine, so long as it is not over used which is what concerns the experts.
Childhood obesity is a growing problem with 1:4 Australian children between the age of 5 and 17 now being diagnosed as being overweight (17%) or obese (8%). Watching T.V. or playing videogames means more time is being spent in active and during that time more "mindless eating", snacking and exposure to adverts for junk food occurs.
What do I mean by "mindless eating?" Basically this is eating because the food is there, rather than because of hunger. A bowl of crisps, a packet of "Pringles", popcorn, if placed in front of us - we will tend to eat it anyway. Brian Wansink has done extensive research on this, which has shown this to be the case - and the bigger the bowl, the more we consume!
Snacking is often the same issue. How many times have you observed that when families are out together, perhaps going to a show, or the movies, or even shopping, there is a tendency to buy snacks, which for the kids may equate to "hot chips."
Fast food is produced because it is tasty, available, cheap and instantly rewards our need to put something into our mouth.
So if you are a parent, it may be time to consider how much screen time your kids are getting and their level of daily activity.
Try monitoring it over a week.
And remember, if your kids are not getting enough activity, they are at risk of future chronic ill health as adults. Find that time to ensure they are active in different ways. Not all children are naturally sporty - it's of course a lot easier if they are.
Tips to increase your child's physical activity.
1. Limit screen time to an agreed number of hours per day. Remember
under the age of two, this means preferably no screen time at all. Over the age of three, try to limit it to one hour per day.
2. Encourage interactive play with other children. Building cubby houses, playing pirates, using make-believe and imagination stimulates thinking, problem solving and innovation.
3. Be a role model! A child who sees that Mum and Dad are active, such as going to the gym, playing tennis, cycling, walking, swimming etc. are more likely to be wiling to give it a go.
4. Expose your child to different types of activity and encourage them to participate. Vacation swimming lessons will teach a valuable life skill and may engender a love for water sport - water polo, swimming, even underwater hockey. Many little girls love horses, and whilst it may not be practical or financial to indulge their wish for a pony, maybe a few lessons would suffice.
5. Undertake activities as a family, which require physical activity even if it is not considered an exercise. Perhaps going out cycling, going to one of the local or National Parks for a walk, playing backyard cricket, frisbee or a treasure hunt. Even gardening, teaching your child how to grow their own veggies will get them outside and interested in their external environment
Children who are more active are less likely to be overweight, be happier, perform better at school, be more resilient to life's challenges and healthier.
As parents isn't it true that we want the best for our kids, for them to be happy and healthy? Providing them the opportunity to be physically active is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children to help them achieve that.
What do you think?
Sigman, A. Time for a view on screen time Arch Dis Child 2012;97:11 935-942 Published Online First: 8 October 2012