Too much screen time can put on the pounds

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Last week I had the opportunity to teach another class as part of Eat Smart, Move More, Weigh Less (ESMMWL) program at the Dinah E. Gore Fitness and Aquatics Center. The ESMMWL class is a 15-week program developed by the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service and N.C. Public Health.
It is part of the statewide movement called Eat Smart, Move More...North Carolina. The whole idea is to increase opportunities for healthy eating and physical activity wherever North Carolinians live, learn, earn, play and pray.
The topic of the class I taught was “Tame the Tube.” It focused on screen time and how it can impact body weight. Screen time is the time you spend in front of the television, computer screen, smart phones and electronic readers.
OK. I want you to take a minute and think about the past few evenings. What did you do with your time after dinner? Did you watch TV, a DVD or Netflix, or perhaps spent time on the computer with Facebook, games or email? All of these count as screen time.
Across the country the amount spent on screen time is increasing for all age groups. We’re spending an average of 6½ hours every day in front of a screen of some kind. A recent survey found adults spend more time with their computers at home than they do with their spouse or partner.
Adults who watch more than two hours of TV a day tend to weigh more than people who watch less than that. It’s also true that children who watch more television have higher body weights than children who watch less.
It’s obvious one of the reasons for this higher weight is if you’re in front of a screen, you are not being active. You burn about as may calories watching TV as you do sleeping.
Simultaneously, I often hear “but I don’t have time to eat right or move more.” The problem may not be we don’t have the time; we’re just spending it doing other things—like sitting in front of the computer (like I am right now as I write this). We spend 15 to 28 hours per week watching TV—that’s about six times more than we do being physically active.
The second reason why more screen time can be related to unhealthy body weight is what we’re watching. There are lots of commercials, and they are mostly for foods and drinks that are high in fat, sugar and calories.
A third reason television is related to weight is that we often eat in front of the TV or computer screen. Unfortunately, this is often mindless eating. Snacking and eating meals in front of the screen distracts us from how much we’re really eating and from paying attention to how full we really are. Have you ever eaten an entire bowl of popcorn or bag of chips while watching a TV show and wondered where it went? That’s mindless eating.
Here are tips from the ESMMWL program for overcoming the pitfalls of too much screen time:
1. Plan how much TV you and your family are going to watch. Let the whole family have some input into this decision. Parents should be good media role models.
2. Make lists of activities you can do instead of watching TV.
3. Be mindful about commercials and how the food and drink ads make you feel. Ask yourself if you’re really hungry for a snack, or did you just see something yummy-looking on TV?
4. Move during the commercials. In an one-hour TV show, you could get almost 20 minutes of activity if you just moved during the commercials.
The Eat Smart Move More North Carolina program has a great website that offers lots of information on how to eat smart and move more. It also has a monthly newsletter you can sign up for and provides lots of background data and links for information. The consumer site for the Eat Smart, Move More program contains some great videos on grocery shopping and offers recipes and other tips on how you can eat smart and move more.
References:  www.myeatsmartmovemore.com and http://www.eatsmartmovemorenc.com.
Cheryle Syracuse is a Family and Consumer Science staff member and can be reached at NC Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center 910-253-2610.