Television/Screen Time and Health
Information for Health Professionals
Heavy reliance on television and other screen time has effects on the community and the individual. The Minnesota Physical Activity and Nutrition Program is concerned about the effects of television and other screen time on the health of individuals and the community and its role in obesity.
Television has been a fixture in American homes for more than 60 years. The average American household has more televisions (2.73) than people (2.55) and has it on over 8 hours a day. 61 percent of children under two use screen media and 43 percent watch television every day. Nearly a third of American children live in a household where the television is on all or most of the time. Children 8-18 years of age average three hours of television a day, with more time spent by African American and Hispanic children than white children, and more time spent by those of lower income.
Add to that the home computer starting in the 1980’s, the development of the internet, proliferation of videogames and the success of handheld devices such as phones and Blackberries, and now more time is spent in from of a screen than ever before.
The effects of this reliance as a society on screen time is a subject of much research, debate and discussion. Television has been implicated in violent or aggressive behavior, substance use, sexual activity, obesity, poor body image, decreased school performance, sleep problems and more (for more information, visit Kaiser Permanente’s Limit Screen Time for Healthier Kids).
Multiple studies have found a positive relationship between the amount of television viewed and obesity in children and adults. Most research has focused on children, where both television and video games have been associated with obesity, and, conversely, children who reduce television time also reduce their body mass index (BMI). Television viewing in childhood has also been associated with obesity in adults.
How television and other screen time activities are related to obesity remains unclear, however several hypotheses have been suggested:
- Decreased physical activity due to time taken doing sedentary activities
- Food advertising encouraging consuming less healthy foods
- Snacking behavior while watching television
- Decreased metabolism
Research to determine the exact causes is ongoing, but what seems most clear is that obesity and excessive television viewing are indeed related, that for whatever reason excessive television time and unhealthy eating among children are correlated, and obesity in children is strongly predictive of obesity in adults.
There has been little research published to date examining other screen time activities than television. We look forward to more research being completed in these areas.
The Minnesota Department of Health is developing a report on the relationship between television and screen time and obesity, which is due out the spring of 2010.
The relationship between obesity and television/screen time appears to be complex. However, based on the research, we can offer some information and recommendations.
Professionals who work with parents or other adults can educate and support them on media issues:
Make them aware of the AAP media guidelines and encourage them to set guidelines for their own families.
Advise parents that merely turning off the television or other screens is only a start. To increase physical activity, the next step is to get active: go outside and take a walk, garden, play with friends or family members, walk the dog, etc.
Encourage parents to keep TVs, computers, and video game consoles out of kids’ bedrooms. Children with televisions in their room have been found to watch more and eat more unhealthily.
Encourage parents to talk to their children’s caregivers or teachers to find out if they have a policy concerning television or computer use in school or child care. Encourage parents to make their opinions known.
Encourage parents to be alert to what shows their children watch and to teach their children to be critical of the advertising messages they contain.
For professionals who work directly with children:
- At this time, Minnesota’s child care licensing regulations do not address TV viewing or screen time. Therefore, following the AAP guidelines, or other accepted national standards, develop a policy limiting screen time for the children in your care. Explain to their parents the reasons for your policy and ask for their input and support.
- Set an example for families. Help them become less dependent on screen activities for entertainment.
- Read books to the children.
- Talk to kids about things they enjoy besides screen time.
- Have older kids fill out a screen time log; encourage them to involve their family members in filling out logs and comparing results.
- Have children make collages or drawings of favorite activities that don’t involve screen time.
- Organize fun evening or weekend events for the families in your program. Make materials available to parents from organizations like the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood
Media and Health: http://www.kff.org/entmedia/.
Reports and fact sheets: http://www.kff.org/entmedia/entmediafactsheetseries.cfm.
For more resources, visit the resource page