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Following on along the
theme of technology and the brain, good bad or evil, this blog asks the
question: Is too much screen time bad for children’s health?

Paediatricians around
the world in the US, UK, Canada and Australia have expressed concern about the
amount of time kids are now spending in front of a computer.

The reason why is less
to do with the content of what the children are watching and more to do with
the fact that with increased screen time, there is less time for other things
such as active play and sport.

Being physically
inactive is one of the biggest health risks, and yet many people appear unaware
that sitting on their bottom is in many ways shortening our lifespan. To many
adults are sedentary spending too many hours sitting. We sit to work, spending
hours on our computer screens. We sit at home perhaps being entertained by the
TV or computer. We sit on our way to and from work, driving our cars.

The incidence of cancer,
heart disease, obesity, stroke, depression and cognitive decline are all higher
as a result of our lack of physical activity.

This is relating to adult health.

Think about the impact
of lack of physical activity on our children.

It is estimated that by
the age of 7, an average child will have spent an entire year (of 24 hours a
day) watching T.V. or looking at a computer or playing video games. This
increases to three whole years by the time they reach adulthood at 18.

By the age of 80 this is
equivalent to 17.6 years!!

Dr Sigman reports that
an average 10 year old in the U.K will have regular access to an average of
five different screens at home: the Family T.V., perhaps their one T.V. in
their bedroom, a Nintendo, a Playstation, smart phone, laptop or iPad.

The current
recommendation is that children under the age of two should not spend any time
watching screens, because of the adverse effect on brain development and
attention spans.

Yet in the U.S. one on
three American infants have a T.V. in their bedroom and around 50% of all
infants watch T.V. or DVD’s for almost 2 hours a day.

It is also recommended
that children under the age of five need to be encouraged to be as physically
active as possible, being on the go and mobile for at least three hours a day.

Screen time can easily
be used as entertainment and a technological “babysitter” which is
fine, so long as it is not over used which is what concerns the experts.

Childhood obesity is a
growing problem with 1:4 Australian children between the age of 5 and 17 now
being diagnosed as being overweight (17%) or obese (8%). Watching T.V. or playing
videogames means more time is being spent in active and during that time more
“mindless eating”, snacking and exposure to adverts for junk food

What do I mean by
“mindless eating?” Basically this is eating because the food is
there, rather than because of hunger. A bowl of crisps, a packet of
“Pringles”, popcorn, if placed in front of us – we will tend to eat
it anyway. Brian Wansink has done extensive research on this, which has shown
this to be the case – and the bigger the bowl, the more we consume!

Snacking is often the
same issue. How many times have you observed that when families are out
together, perhaps going to a show, or the movies, or even shopping, there is a
tendency to buy snacks, which for the kids may equate to “hot chips.”

Fast food is produced
because it is tasty, available, cheap and instantly rewards our need to put
something into our mouth.

So if you are a parent,
it may be time to consider how much screen time your kids are getting and their
level of daily activity.

Try monitoring it over a

And remember, if your
kids are not getting enough activity, they are at risk of future chronic ill
health as adults. Find that time to ensure they are active in different ways.
Not all children are naturally sporty – it’s of course a lot easier if they

Tips to increase your child’s physical activity.

1. Limit screen time to an agreed number of hours per day. Remember
under the age of two, this means preferably no screen time at all. Over the age of three, try to limit it to one hour per day.

2. Encourage interactive play with other children. Building cubby
houses, playing pirates, using make-believe and imagination stimulates
thinking, problem solving and innovation.

3. Be a role model! A child who sees that Mum and Dad are active, such
as going to the gym, playing tennis, cycling, walking, swimming etc. are more
likely to be wiling to give it a go.

4. Expose your child to different types of activity and encourage them
to participate. Vacation swimming lessons will teach a valuable life skill and
may engender a love for water sport – water polo, swimming, even underwater
hockey. Many little girls love horses, and whilst it may not be practical or
financial to indulge their wish for a pony, maybe a few lessons would suffice.

5. Undertake activities as a family, which require physical activity
even if it is not considered an exercise. Perhaps going out cycling, going to
one of the local or National Parks for a walk, playing backyard cricket, frisbee
or a treasure hunt. Even gardening, teaching your child how to grow their own
veggies will get them outside and interested in their external environment

Children who are more
active are less likely to be overweight, be happier, perform better at school, be more resilient to life’s challenges and healthier.

As parents isn’t it true
that we want the best for our kids, for them to be happy and healthy? Providing
them the opportunity to be physically active is one of the greatest gifts we
can give our children to help them achieve that.

What do you think?



Sigman, A. Time for a view on screen
Arch Dis Child 2012;97:11 935942 Published Online First: 8 October 2012

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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