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Too Much TV and Too Little Physical Activity: Two Sides of the Same Coin?
Government statistics suggest that the average youth spends two to three times the recommended "screen timee"" proposed by experts on children's health. But does this level of innactivity, which includes time in front of the television, the computer and playing video games, reflect parents' reluctance to intervene? Or an uncertainty about how to do so?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of total screen time a day. But according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American kids are spending an average of three hours a day in front of the TV alone. When movie, video game and computer time is added in, total in-home screen time soars to an average of more than four to six hours a day. In a 2007 CDC report, only 30 percent of kids aged 6 to 13 reported less than two hours of TV the previous day.

Another statistic has seen a similar rise: Overweight among U.S. adolescents has tripled since 1971. Many influences are surely involved, but researchers point to two that involve television time.

One new study, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, takes a closer look at television advertisements aired during Saturday morning children's programming. While the results repeat previous findings noting that about half of all advertisements were for food, researchers also evaluated the types of foods advertised; over 90 percent of the advertised foods were high in fat, added sugar or sodium, or low in nutrients.

Research also links more time watching television with low physical activity and more overweight. Reducing TV time seems to be an effective strategy to treat and prevent overweight. In addition to the vital role it plays in weight control, physical activity provides other direct health benefits. Experts recommend that children and adolescents participate in moderate or vigorous physical activity for at least 60 minutes all or most days of the week. Only about a third of high school students meet this goal.

A report from the CDC examined parental responses to children's increased screen time. Parents noted a variety of reasons why they did not enforce TV limits more strictly: Some were more concerned about limiting the type of TV program than the amount viewed. Many said it was hard to keep track of the time kids spent watching TV. Others did not see any reason for time limits, as long as chores and homework were done.

The parental responses suggest that television's impact on eating habits, exercise and weight control were not a factor in their decision making.

"We Can" (a federal program aimed at helping children maintain a healthy weight), the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC all offer suggestions for families seeking to limit screen time. One of the foremost recommendations is to keep television out of your child's bedroom. Children with TVs in their rooms reportedly watch almost 1.5 hours more per day than those who do not. According to CDC figures, 57 percent of 8 to 16 year olds have TVs in their rooms.

Other steps to decrease screen time: Avoid TV during meals. Avoid using TV as a reward. Find new ways to spend family time, including board games or activities like Frisbee and tag. Parental modeling is also key, so show kids how to relax and unwind through activity, reading and other hobbies.

By Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research
Reprinted with permission from the American Institute for Cancer Research
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $86 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.
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