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Parents can set limits on TV watching, video games

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In last week’s column, I wrote about September being “National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.” One of the big things people are talking about on this subject is the need for people of all ages (but especially children) to get more physical activity.
Physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. It helps control weight, builds muscle, reduces fat, promotes strong bones, muscle and joint development and decreases the risk of obesity.
Children need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity most days. This is only one hour of running around playing or riding bikes or organized sports. It seems impossible, but most kids are not active for 60 minutes during the day. Research shows only one-third of high school students get 60 minutes of activity every day.
What are kids doing instead? It is estimated that kids 8 to 18 years old spend nearly eight hours a day using entertainment media. This is TV, computers, video games, cell phones, checking email on smart phones, texting and movies. Many people call this “screen time.” More screen time equals less activity time. The more time kids spend in front of the screen, the more likely they are to be overweight.
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation shares some statistics on kids’ screen time from a 2010 study. They say kids spend 4.5 hours watching television, 1.5 hours on the computer and more than an hour playing video games every day.
The average child spends less than 25 minutes per day reading books (this isn’t screen time, but it isn’t active time either). I’m guessing with the popularity of email, texting, Facebook and electronic reading devices like the Kindle or Nook, that these numbers are higher now.
When it comes to kids, parents and caregivers need to set a good example. They can also set rules that limit kids’ computer time, TV watches and video game playing to reduce the kid’s screen time.
Much of today’s youth have media in their bedroom and have their own cell phones. The Kaiser Foundation reports that more than one-third have computer and Internet access, one-half have video game players and more than two-thirds have TVs in their bedrooms.
Their research also shows only 28 percent of parents set TV-watching rules; 30 percent set rules about video game use; and only 36 percent set rules about computer use.
The We Can! website offers some suggestions for parents on how to reduce this screen time (and possibly increase activity levels, too).
Talk to your family about the need for more physical fitness and to move more.
Start tracking how much time your family spends in front of screens. You may be surprised. Then take a look at how much physical activity everyone gets. This way you’ll get a sense of what changes need to be made.
Parents need to set an example and be a good role model. Limit your own recreational screen time to less than two hours per day.
Make screen time active time. When you do spend time in front of the screen, so something active, too…stretch, yoga or lifting weights. Challenge the family to see who can do the most push-ups or jumping jacks or leg lifts during a commercial.
Set limits. Create a house rule that limits screen time to two hours every day (beyond work and homework) and then enforce the rule.
Turn off Saturday morning cartoons and take your child to the beach, a park or a gym.
Take the TV out of your child’s bedroom. The research showed that kids with televisions in their bedrooms spent one and one-half hours more each day in front of them than those without TV.
Encourage every family member to think of fun activities to keep moving, such as biking or training together for a charity walk or run.
Make mealtime family time. Turn off the TV during meals. Make this a time to talk to each other. Research shows that families that eat together eat more nutritious meals.
Provide other options. Give you and the kids ideas and alternatives to watching television, such as playing outside or learning a new sport.
Don’t use TV time as a reward or punishment.
Less screen time and more activity is just one, but a very important part, of helping to reduce childhood obesity.
Source: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, We Can! (Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity and Nutrition).
Cheryle Jones Syracuse is a Family and Consumer Science staff member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, at 253-2610.