Obesity is a growing problem in the US, with increasing numbers of children being diagnosed with health problems related to their weight. This includes adult-type diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and joint problems. In addition to developing healthy eating habits, we encourage children to engage in more active play and less screen time (time spent watching tv, playing on the computer, playing video games).
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under 2 years of age should not be exposed to television at all and children over 2 should limit their “screen time” to only 1-2 hours of quality programming per day. Research shows that television viewing is associated with being overweight in preschool children. This risk is even greater for children who have televisions in their rooms. Preschool children who watch more than 2 hours of television per day are more at risk for becoming overweight than children who watch 2 hours or less per day. It is up to parents to encourage their children to spend less time watching television and more time engaging in interactive activities, like playing.
There is also the concern that too much television exposure is linked to poor eating habits. Children who watch television are exposed to food marketing on a regular basis. This includes commercials for fast food and sugary drinks. Children who eat while watching television are more likely to eat larger portions or snack more, thereby consuming more calories while becoming more sedentary. We encourage families to have meals together, away from the television. This helps family members build relationships, children develop social skills and decreases children’s likelihood to consume extra calories.
(American Academy of Pediatrics. Children, adolescents, and television. Pediatrics 2001;107(2):423-26.) (White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report: Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity within a Generation, May 2010, page 18
Limiting screen time and improving eating habits are 2 aspects of weight management in children. The 3rd and equally important aspect is improving sedentary habits. Things you can do as a parent to encourage your child to engage in more active play are:
- Set a positive example by living an active lifestyle yourself
- Make physical activity a part of your family’s daily routine by taking walks together or playing active games
- Give your children equipment that encourages physical activity
- Take your children places where they can be active, like parks, community baseball fields or basketball courts
- Encourage your children to be interested in new activities
- Make physical activity fun. Activities can range from team sports or individual recreational activities, like swimming, dancing, playground activities or free-time play
To learn more about things you can do to get your children active and healthy, click here.