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Do your children spend too much time in front of a screen?

Did you know?

Over half (52%) of Kiwi children watch two or more hours of TV each day.

Watching TV or playing computer games can be a favourite pass times but too much time in front of screens can damage children’s health both in the short and long term. For children too much time in front of screens can;

  • Increase their risk of obesity
  • Make it difficult for them to get to sleep
  • Increase their risk of attention problems, anxiety and depression
  • Hinder development of sporting and social skills

There a few reasons why excess screen time increases the risk of obesity. One, obviously, is that time on bottoms in front of a screen is NOT time spend running around or just generally being active burning up energy and working up an appetite for a good meal.

There is also the temptation whilst sitting around and getting bored of wanting to snack, especially with the kitchen handy. Snacking can often be on chips and lollies, rather than fruit or better snack choices.

Another reason may be a little less obvious. During TV and video clip watching, playing on-line games and generally hanging out in front of screens there is a reasonably high chance of children catching advertisements for unhealthy foods and drinks. While there is a voluntary agreement banning the advertising of unhealthy food and drinks during peak children’s viewing times the reality is many children watch programmes outside these designated hours and play games with ads on-line and so do come across advertising encouraging them to consume unhealthy foods and drinks.

Television and computer games can portray antisocial and violent behaviours. Children often cannot differentiate as to what is appropriate and what is inappropriate behaviours, and can become desensitised to violence they are seeing. They can then role model what they have seen on the screen with their peers and families to the dismay of all. This can be very distressing to the child when they can’t understand the negative reaction to their behaviour.

Screen time is not social time. Developing friendships, learning to self-entertain, learning to run, skip and catch a ball whilst enjoying being active, are all vital life skills which are not learnt sitting in front of a screen.

The recommendation for screen time is “spend less than two hours each day” (excluding school) at the computer or watching TV.

Some tips to decrease screen time are:

  • Don’t have TVs or computers in bedrooms or at least remove computers after homework is done (remember phones count – charge them overnight out of bedrooms)
  • Don’t eat in-front of the TV
  • Don’t leave TV on as background noise – if it is on odds are someone will sit in front of it.
  • Be a role model – don’t blob mindlessly in front of TV for hours on end yourself and then expect the kids to do anything different.
  • Give gifts that encourage physical activity rather than more video games.
  • Get your children involved in a team sport
  • Take your children to places that encourage them to be active – the beach, pool, park, bush walks etc.

Decreasing screen time hopefully frees up some time for children to do the recommended “at least 60 minutes” of moderate to vigorous activity everyday.

Moderate activity includes;

  • Walking the dog
  • Riding a bike on the flat
  • Playing outside
  • Dancing
  • Kapa haka
  • Skateboarding

Vigorous activity includes;

  • Running games
  • Mountain biking
  • Uphill tramping
  • Fast lap swimming
  • Summer and winter sports like touch, netball, football, cycling, tennis, volleyball
  • Waka ama

Our thanks to Sarah Hanrahan, Dietitian, New Zealand Nutrition Foundation for writing this article www.nutritionfoundation.org.nz

References:

Ministry of Health – Eating for Young People

Ministry of Health. The Health of New Zealand Children 2011/12: Key findings of the New Zealand Health Survey

Ministry of Health. 2012. Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Children and Young People (aged 2-18years). A background paper

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