By Sue Hubbard, M.D.
A recent study released in Pediatrics looks at mounting research showing that a child's media use may be linked to their body weight, not only due to the fact that they don't get as much exercise if they're watching TV and using other media, but also due to other issues related to media exposure.
The policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics, entitled "Children, Adolescents, Obesity and the Media" states that, "American society couldn't do a worse job at the moment of keeping children fit and healthy - too much TV, too many food ads, not enough exercise, and not enough sleep."
It has become my routine during well child exams (beginning as young as age 2) to ask parents as well as older children, "Do you have a TV in your room?" and "Do you have a computer or DVD player in your room?" I'm still amazed at the number of young children who answer "yes" to these questions. Fortunately, many also say "No," and then ask me when they can have a TV in their room! My standard answer is, "When you leave home and go to college or work." Most parents are relieved with this response. A few don't understand why I'm even asking the question.
This new policy statement reiterates that parents need to be paying attention to the amount of "screen" time their children get daily. Total non-educational screen time (again, the definition of "educational" may vary from family to family), should be no more than 2 hours per day. This limit should also be enforced in child care centers, after-school programs and community centers.
According to the statement, the many ads on the air for junk food and fast food only increase a child's desire for these products. It's easy to keep your child from buying Cocoa Puffs or Fruit Loops when they've never seen cute ads for these sugary cereals. I still remember the advertising slogan, "Trix are for kids!"
Children who are allowed to stay up late watching TV are not only exposed to numerous ads, but at the same time don't get enough sleep, and the combination puts them at greater risk for childhood obesity.
Dr. Victor Strasburger, one of the lead authors of the policy statement, notes, "Kids see 5,000 to 10,000 food ads per year, most of them for junk food and fast food." By asking parents and their children about screen time, pediatricians can encourage families to have a well thought out plan for limiting such exposure while encouraging outside activity.
These recommendations will hopefully translate into less screen time, less exposure to advertising, less sedentary activity and ultimately a healthier weight for our children.
Dr. Sue Hubbard is a nationally known pediatrician and co-host of "The Kid's Doctor" radio show. Submit questions at www.kidsdr.com
This was printed in the November 4, 2012 - November 17, 2012 Edition