By LeeAnn Weintraub, Special to Digital First Media
Across the nation families are being encouraged to pursue a more active lifestyle.
Earlier this year, for example, Los Angeles County launched a new public health campaign for families with children 5 years old and younger. Its focus is to shut off televisions, mobile devices and other screens and engage children in fun indoor and outdoor activities that get them up and moving.
This campaign was created to help reverse the trend of increasing obesity rates among preschoolers in Los Angeles in light of recent national studies showing that young children are getting an average of seven hours of screen time daily.
Other initiatives under the Early Childhood Obesity Initiative program include making healthful choices when eating in restaurants and reducing the consumption of sugary drinks.
The overuse of media among young people of all ages has gotten so concerning that just last month the American Academy of Pediatrics released several policy statements on the topic. In the past, the AAP has recommended time limitations for children’s use of television and other screens, which included no screen time for those under 2 years old. However, the new guidelines provide more specific recommendation regarding how screens should and should not be used based on age.
For example, for children less than 18 months old, screen time should be completely avoided except for video chat, and those 18 to 24 months old should only consume high-quality programs or internet applications when used together with an adult or caregiver. Screen time for children 2 to 5 years old should be limited to up to one hour of high-quality programming.
Viewing two hours or more of television per day has been shown to increase obesity in preschool age children. Excessive and evening media exposure from television, computer and mobile devices is also associated with disrupted and fewer minutes of sleep per night, likely at least partially related to the blue light emitted from screens. The AAP recommends no screens during meal time and powering down all televisions and devices at least one hour before bedtime.
Placing limits on screen time is not just important for children. Studies show that adults’ risk of gaining weight or becoming obese and acquiring weight-related chronic diseases like diabetes and heart diseases increases significantly with excessive screen time. Ultimately, sitting in front of a screen contributes to an overall sedentary lifestyle, and we know that too much sitting is not healthful. Many adults already spend a disproportionate amount of their day sitting in traffic and at work. Time spent consuming social media or watching television competes with available time to participate in physical activities to use up calories consumed throughout the day.
KICK THAT HABIT
Here are some tips for people of all ages to help form more healthful screen viewing habits for a more active lifestyle:
1 Screen-free meal zone: During meal and snack times, all mobile devices are turned off or put away. Media use paired with food is a recipe for overeating, plus unplugging from technology helps foster connection and conversation.
2 Screen-free bedroom: Consider limiting or completely avoiding the use of television, computers and other screens in the bedroom, especially in the bedrooms of young children.
3 Use timers: Keep track of screen-time use and place limits on daily consumption for young children.
4 Outdoor activities: Check out http://www.parks.lacounty.gov to check out your local parks or sign up for recreational activities for people of all ages.
5 Indoor activities: As days get shorter and colder, engage children in indoor activities such as musical chairs, dancing, a scavenger hunt, or jumping rope.
6 Go for quality: Choose from high-quality children’s programming such as PBS Kids, Common Sense Media and Sesame Workshop. Avoid children’s exposure to advertising, specifically of processed and unhealthful foods and beverages.
LeeAnn Weintraub, a registered dietitian, provides nutrition counseling and consulting to individuals, families and businesses. She can be reached at RD@halfacup.com.