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Screen time dangers. Much has been said about the consequences of spending too much time on “screens” – TV, computers, tablets and smart phones. We’ve heard a lot of horror stories about the dangers to adolescents and teens of smart phone obsession – texting and driving, social media bullying, sexting, online predators, and sleep disturbance, let alone the sedentary time that contributes to the diminishing overall fitness of our kids. Parents might be tempted to utter a sigh of relief that they don’t have to deal with these dangers yet with their younger children and toddlers. If they nag you to buy them Lucky Charms cereal, that’s nothing compared to texting and driving, right? Maybe not.

Health epidemic. The latest statistics say the rate of childhood obesity has tripled since the 1970s. The term “obese” is not a moral judgment; it’s a clinical term for a condition that includes increased risk of chronic disease and morbidity. Obesity can harm nearly every system in a child’s body – heart and lungs, muscles and bones, kidneys and digestive tract, as well as the hormones that control blood sugar and puberty.

It’s easy to become obese in America. Besides the decreasing amount of physical activity in our lives (dwindling minutes of recess and P.E. in schools, adults sitting at desks all day), the unhealthiest foods are the tastiest, cheapest and largest-portion foods. Fast food places and convenience stores full of junk food are everywhere.

Relentless influence, relentless requests. Increasingly, public health experts agree that we are not consciously choosing to overeat. If you are wondering why your kids or grandkids are so relentless in their requests for junk food, and we crave half-pound burgers, we are all, especially kids, inundated through our “screens” with unhealthy food ads. Despite food companies agreeing to limit that type of marketing to kids, a major study from Cancer Research UK says even children who spend less than an hour a day online are still almost twice as likely to pester their parents for junk food. Additionally, the study found that kids who spent more than 3 hours a day on computers, tablets and smartphones were more than 4 times as likely to spend their own money on junk food as those with limited screen time.

What to do? Turn it off for a while. For harried parents and grandparents, it’s hard not to use screens to keep the kids occupied and entertained, especially in bad weather. And who can always monitor where kids are spending their allowance? But there is a way to fight back – declare screen-free zones and hours, and get active as a family. An easy, cost-free way? Bundle up in layers and take a device-free family walk outside or walk inside at Gateway mall. A full mall loop is about 2/3 mile, or 1/2 mile if you avoid the food court. Gateway's Live 360° offers programming such as yoga classes, boutique studio demos and HIIT training for adults. Sports and games for children are also regularly scheduled.

Here are some other fun and inexpensive ways to get active as a family:

Lincoln Parks & Recreation – Seven recreation centers are located around the city. The centers offer a variety of active and interesting pastimes and classes like exercise, nutrition and cooking classes, sports activities, arts and crafts, and even theater and drama classes. There are lots of free “Party in the Parks” activities as well. Access or download a program guide at www.lincoln.ne.gov/city/parks/ or call 402-441-7847.

Woods Tennis Center – There’s an hourly rate for court time, but Woods (33rd and J streets) offers a number of partial and full scholarships to children and adults (ages 4-93), as well as providing rackets and free court time to residents of the surrounding neighborhoods. More at www.woodstenniscenter.wordpress.com or call 402-441-7095.

Scheels – The newly remodeled store at the SouthPointe Mall (32nd and Pine Lake Road) offers a LEGO table, aquarium, Ferris wheel, indoor playground, mini bowling area, putting green and more (fees for the Ferris wheel and bowling). Consider taking along fruit slices for kid snacks, though, and avoid the candy and fudge shops.

YMCA – With five different locations, dozens of family and youth programs, you can have fun and get fit as a family at your local Y. Financial assistance is offered to individuals and families who cannot afford membership. Visit www.ymcalincoln.org or call 402-434-9200.

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Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln (HealthyLincoln.org) and LNKTV Health (LNKTV.lincoln.ne.gov) bring you "Health and the City," a monthly column that examines relevant community health issues and spotlights the local organizations who impact community wellness. Direct questions and comments to jpearsonanderson@healthylincoln.org.

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