Another Reason to Limit Kids' Screen Time

Healthnotes Newswire (October 15, 2009)—While some television viewing and computer exposure may be educational for children, that nagging feeling that it’s not healthy for kids to sit for hours in front of the tube gets some scientific backing. New research published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine warns that too much downtime in front of the television may be linked to higher blood pressure in children. The implication: Exercise and plenty of physical activity to balance screen time are essential for children’s health and blood pressure.

Common sense prevails: activity = better blood pressure

In this study, the parents of 111 boys and girls, 3 to 8 years old, noted the amount of screen time their children spent daily in front of a television, video, computer, or video game for seven days. Body mass, height, weight, and percent body fat were all measured and sedentary activity was measured by an accelerometer which the children wore at all times except for sleeping and water activities. Results showed that:

• Screen time averaged 1.5 hours per day.

• Sedentary time averaged 5 hours per day.

• Children who watched television the least (less than 30 minutes per day) had significantly lower blood pressure than children who watched television the most (more than 90 minutes per day).

• Children with the least amount of screen time overall also had lower blood pressure levels compared with children with the most amount of screen time.

According to the study authors. “Time spent watching TV has been associated with behaviors such as increased consumption of high-fat, high-sugar, and salty foods and decreased consumption of fruits and vegetables,” said David Martinez-Gomez and his colleagues from the Department of Kinesiology, Iowa State University. “Furthermore, these behaviors are commonly associated with adiposity [obesity] in children and consequently with blood pressure.”

Keep children active

Being overweight, a family history of high blood pressure, an unhealthy diet, and lack of physical activity are just a few of the important risk factors for high blood pressure in children and adults. Here are some tips to reduce those risks in kids.

• Exercise daily. National guidelines recommend that children exercise at least 90 minutes each day.

• Replace inactivity with healthy behaviors. Reducing inactivity is a way to increase physical activity. Look for opportunities to encourage physical activity such as playing outside or better yet, accompany your child on a walk or bike ride.

• Watch how much they’re watching. Limit television viewing, video gaming, and computer use.

• Monitor snacks during television time. Pick out one snack that your children can eat during television time to help avoid overeating and weight gain.

(Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2009;163:724-30.)

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, Web sites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.

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