Guest Column: A connection between screen time and weight?

Published 2:57 pm Friday, December 29, 2017

By Emily Schmidt

Albert Lea resident Emily Schmidt is a registered dietitian at Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea. She enjoys writing, cooking and spending time with her son and family.

With the winter season upon us, the dark hours and cold weather often make us want to retreat to our homes. During this time — when it is most appealing to stay indoors — we find it so easy to curl up on the couch in front of the TV or spend time on a tablet or phone. Although relaxation time is encouraged and needed to enhance personal wellness, families oftentimes spend too much time in front of screens.

According to a recent article published by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, children spend an average of seven hours per day in front of a screen. This equates to 49 hours per week with media. For most, that’s more than the time spent with parents. Many children watch a screen when getting ready for school, during meals, between meals and before bed.

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reports that extensive research proves a connection between TV watching and obesity among children and adults in countries around the world.

Studies show that excess TV viewing in childhood predicts risk for obesity well into adulthood. For example, children who have TV sets in their rooms are more likely to gain excess weight when compared to those who don’t have TVs. Furthermore, marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages also contributes to obesity.

I suggest the following tips to limit screen time and increase activity:

• Remove any/all screens from bedrooms. Seventy-one percent of children between the ages of 8 and 18 years have television sets in their rooms. Children who have TVs in their rooms watch 1 1/2 more hours of TV than children who don’t.

• Eat without electronics. Research indicates that families who dine together are healthier, and children show better academic scores.

• Enjoy screen time on weekends, versus weekdays. Sit down and watch television on the weekend as a family. Ideally, your family should watch two hours or less of TV each day.

• Develop a family screen time rule. Families should discuss ways of limiting screen time. Come up with ideas for fun, family-oriented activities.

• Enjoy physical activity. Take a winter walk as a family, build a snowman or go sledding.

• Dance with the children. Turn the TV, tablet or phone off, turn up the music and have a dance-off.

• Move about while watching television. Have a contest to see who can do the most push-ups or jumping jacks during commercials.