Scientists at the National Institutes of Health have finished an exhaustive study of the links between the time children spend in front of a television or computer and their health. It’s no surprise that the research found the more time a kid spends staring at a screen, the more likely they are to be overweight or obese.
Dennis Haney, with the Iowa Department of Public Health, says most children that spend hours glued to a TV or computer screen used to spend that time playing outdoors and getting exercise. "We also know that the more time children spend on the couch, in front of the TV, the more likely they are to eat unhealthy foods during that time," Haney said.
He admits it’s unrealistic, in today’s technologically-driven society, to completely cut kids off from the TV or internet – but says parents should strive for a balance of "screen time" and exercise. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends children, including teenagers, should engage in physical activity at least 60 minutes a day.
Haney says that physical activity can even be productive if broken up into 10 minute segments throughout the day. The exercise can range from climbing monkey bars to riding a bike or even walking to school. The Iowa Department of Public Health conducts its own bi-annual survey of 3rd, 4th and 5th graders at 12 schools across the state.
"Our responses to that (survey) have ranged from no daily screen time all the way up to four or more hours day…which is absolutely alarming," Haney said.
The national study also found links between increased screen time to drug, tobacco and alcohol use, sexual behavior, academic performance and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. In general, the study found children who spend less than two hours a day in front of a TV or computer screen are much less likely to be overweight or obese.