B-FIT | Wired children: screen time linked to poorer health | SierraSun.com

B-FIT | Wired children: screen time linked to poorer health

Jill Whisler
Special to the Sun

Too much screen time is detrimental to mental and phsyical health.

TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Screen time (the hours spent in front of a TV, computer or any other screen for recreational purposes) has a powerful effect on children, not to mention adults.

Finding a way to combat screen time in adults is a bit complicated, since many of us work on computers and have to be in front of a screen for a good portion of our days. Finding a way to combat screen time in children, who don't have inboxes to tend to and spreadsheets to create, is a bit more simple: lay down the law and set limitations. The B-FIT focus for May is limiting screen time and even challenging your family to not watch TV for a week in May!

This is not always as easy as it sounds, since screens can be addictive, particularly for young children.

That might sound extreme, but as of May 2013, "internet use disorder" (IUD) will be added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association. In order to be added to the manual, research had to demonstrate not only that screen time can become a regular habit that has the potential to disrupt daily life, but also that there is neurological evidence to back up that claim.

American Academy of Pediatrics estimates the average child spends seven hours of their day looking at a screen, be it a video game, computer, cell phone or television.

The journal "Pediatrics" found the more TV kids watch, the less they tend to sleep. The connection is fairly intuitive — even adults can get wired from staring at screens for too long.

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This study adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting too much screen time in childhood is at least linked to, if not the cause of, poor behavior and poor physical health. Sleep deprivation in kids is linked to impaired performance in school, along with depression, injury and obesity, according to the authors.

Too much screen time can:

Increase your child's risk of becoming obese.

Make it harder to get your child to go to bed and fall asleep at night.

Increase the chance that your child will develop attention problems, anxiety, and depression.

Ways to decrease screen time:

Remove the television or computer from your child's bedroom.

Do not allow TV watching during meals or homework.

Do not let your child eat while watching TV or using the computer.

Do not leave the TV on for background noise. Turn on music instead, or have no background noise.

Decide which programs to watch ahead of time, and turn off the TV when the program is over.

Suggest other activities, such as a family board game, puzzle or going for a walk.

Keep a record of how much time is spent in front of a screen. Try to spend the same amount of time being active.

Be a good role model as a parent. Decrease your own screen time to 2 hours a day.

Challenge your family to go one week without watching TV or doing other screen-time activity. Find things to do with your time that get you moving and burning energy.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children limit screen time to no more than two hours per day. TV is not recommended for children under age 2.

No matter how convenient, educational or mood-enhancing computers and other devices may be, experts agree there needs to be limits. Join Turn Off Your TV Week this May. You actually may be amazed what creative fun games you come up with.

For more information about B-FIT or screen time, please contact the Community Wellness Team, a service of Tahoe Forest Health System, at 530-587-3769 or email mmartin@tfhd.com. Article provided by Jill Whisler, registered dietitian.

Turn off the TV

Number of 30-second commercials seen in a year by average child: 20,000

Number of minutes per week parents spend in meaningful conversation with their children: 38.5

Number of minutes per week average child watches television: 1,680

Percentage of children ages 6-17 who have TVs in their bedrooms: 50

Percentage of day care centers that use TV: 70

Hours per year the average American youth spends in school: 900 hours

Hours per year the average American youth watches television: 1,500

Percentage of Americans that regularly watch television while eating dinner: 66

From: TV-Free America is a national nonprofit organization that was founded in 1994 to raise awareness about the harmful effects of excessive television-watching, http://www.turnoffyourtv.com