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Whether it’s a television, computer, tablet, or smart phone, it’s hard to find a kid not engaged with one of them for several hours of the day. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, kids aged 8 - 10 years, spend about 6 hours per day in front of a “screen” of some type. For older kids, the average is 7.5 hours or more per day.

Often the obesity epidemic is blamed on “all that screen time,” which is partly true, but not for the reason parents often think. Time in front of a screen is likely inactive time, which could be making it harder for your kid to get the recommended minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity per day. However, research to date shows that the biggest contribution of screen time to the obesity epidemic is not due to the resulting lack of physical activity, it’s due to the exposure of kids to advertising for unhealthy foods and beverages. It turns out that the biggest reason screen time is closely linked to obesity is that kids eat and drink what they watch.

Kids could spend the recommended hour per day in active play, but it would not fully address the real threat of that much screen time for kids. TV bombards people, especially kids, with ads for unhealthy, sugar and fat-laden food and beverages. In fact, about 50 percent of all ads directed at children are for food and beverages. Eating in front of the TV is made worse by food ads that make people of all ages have the desire to eat more, even if they are not hungry.

There is now a body of evidence that reducing screen time for kids has many benefits to their physical, emotional, and social health, especially in toddlers. According to experts, not only does it help allow a child’s natural tendency to engage in physical play to emerge, but it also reduces the likelihood of developing problems like insomnia or poor attention and decision-making which are linked to obesity. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends NO screen time for kids aged 2 and under, less than 2 hours of TV per day for preschoolers, and limiting to 1-2 hours per day of entertainment related screen time for children and teens.

So, what’s the answer for parents? Incorporate screen-free play time into your family schedule! Some helpful ideas to get started include:

• Eat together as a family with TVs, computers, and ALL phones turned off

• Play family games. Driveway hoops, active gaming such as dance gaming, or board or card games

• Take a phone-free family walk

But most importantly, be aware of what your kids are watching on TV – and hit the “off” button. For more information, visit Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln at HealthyLincoln.org.

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