Media and Obesity: Plug Your Kids In To Good Health

What do you think of the most recent report from pediatricians saying that screen time is part of the obesity epidemic in kids? 

Javier, California


The policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics on media and obesity is a welcome response to a problem that has been more than a decade in the making.

More and more often, I meet kids who regularly do incredible things.  On any old Saturday they might fly a plane, win a championship soccer game and climb to the top of an ancient pyramid.  Then they’ll have some lunch.  After that, who knows?  Maybe they’ll race a car on one of the world’s most demanding racetracks, single-handedly build an amusement park, or, if there’s time, somehow save the universe by jumping across a series of bottomless chasms. 

Just hearing about these adventures wears me out. These kids must be physical specimens!  

And yet it seems like nearly every newspaper I pick up contains an article about rising child obesity rates.That's because the kids I meet aren’t actually performing these amazing acts.  Their onscreen personas are.  With the incredible hyper-realism of digital media, children can explore worlds undreamed of a decade ago.  But all too often, the wide world in their own backyards goes unexplored.  While onscreen characters with washboard abs do mid-air summersaults, the kids in control are getting a workout too—but only for their thumbs. 

As the average American kid’s weekly media diet increases—up to over 53 hours a week now—many kids are spending too much time on couches, barraged by compelling advertisements for junk food. 

For those of you who haven't read the new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics called Children, Adolescents, Obesity, and the Media you should check it out.  They've recommended that pediatricians everywhere ask parents two key questions at every well-child visit:

  • How much time per day does your child or teenager spend with screen media?
  • Is there a TV set or unrestricted, unmonitored Internet access throughout the house, including in your child's bedroom?
Us parents should be ready to respond to our kids' pediatricians about these important questions. The policy statement on obesity and media does a great job of laying out what is at stake when our kids spend time in front of a screen instead of running, jumping, creating, and playing. The impact of screen media on child obesity is threefold:
  1. Screen media can crowd out healthy, active pursuits;
  2. Cause unhealthy eating habits and expose kids to influential junk food ads;
  3. And disturb young people's sleep patterns.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with screen media - TV, video games, and mobile media are incredible sources of learning and entertainment. It's just too easy to burn a whole Saturday in front of the screen. Let's challenge our kids to break the link between obesity and media by balancing their thumb workouts with action in the real world. 

Get started with Ten Ways to Raise Healthy, Active Kids!

Dr. Dave Walsh