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Children need less screen time and more physical activity

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

We know that eating smart and moving more are important lifestyle habits for people of all ages. There are many health benefits to good nutrition and physical activity -- maintaining a healthy weight, feeling better and having more energy.

For children, as well as adults, screen time often takes the place of physical activity. Many children spend more time sitting in front of electronic screens than any other activity besides sleeping. The average time children spend with various media -- television, computer, video games -- is more than five hours per day.

Screen time cuts into quality family time. If you watch television together as a family, there is limited family interaction and conversation. But parents and children watching separate TVs leaves children unsupervised and divides the family.

We've gone from the days of three network channels to endless options of cable and satellite television. The 1980s marked a time in history when, for the first time, people of all segments of society used television as their no. 1 leisure time activity. Most homes also have computers and Internet access and two-thirds of households with children own video and computer games. Kids and adults have many opportunities to spend time viewing an electronic screen.

Children who spend a great deal of time in front of a screen have less time for playing and talking with other children and adults. Language skills are best learned through reading and active two-way participation in conversation. Children who watch more television do less homework and less reading. Studies have shown that children who watch less television do better in school and perform better on standardized tests.

There is also a link between overweight in children and television viewing. Children who watch more TV tend to be heavier than children who watch less TV. Furthermore, children who live in families in which television viewing is a normal part of the meal routine eat fewer fruits and vegetables and more pizzas, snack foods and sodas.

So, what can families do to limit screen time? Here are some ideas.

* Plan how much TV you and your family are going to watch. Limit screen time to one to two hours a day. Planning the amount of television you watch and selecting certain shows helps you to get the best out of what television has to offer.

* Choose not to keep the TV on all the time and, instead, tune into specific shows. With cable channels numbering well into the hundreds, you could surf for hours and never watch a show. If the TV is on, this is likely to happen. However, with a TV plan, the set goes on when that show is on and off when it is over.

* Get the TV out of the bedroom. Having a television in the bedroom allows children to watch more television unsupervised. The same goes for video games and computers -- put those in a common area of the home.

* Eat together as a family without the TV. Have media-free meals. Turn off the TV, cell phone, pager, video game and music device and talk about your day.

* Make a list of activities to do instead of watching TV. Then plan family time to do them together.

* Set clear limits and be a good TV role model. Setting limits for the whole family is important. Children need to be taught how to have a good media diet.

(Information taken from Tame the Tube, www.eatsmartmovemorenc.com.)

Editor's Note: Ann Ludlum is a K-State Research and Extension family and consumer sciences and 4-H extension agent assigned to Bourbon County. She may be reached at (620) 223-3720 or aludlum@ksu.edu.

Ann Ludlum
FCS Agent, Southwind District
Editor's Note: Ann Ludlum is a K-State Research and Extension family and consumer sciences and 4-H extension agent assigned to Southwind District -- Fort Scott office. She may be reached at (620) 223-3720 or aludlum@ksu.edu.