You can get kids to cut down on screen time -- but what works best?

Kids may be spending too much time in front of computers and television, but are interventions designed to curb that working? An analysis of several reports finds that some do, but improvements may be needed.

A meta-analysis of 47 studies targeting intervention programs to curb screen time among children younger than 12 found that 29 showed programs were successful at getting kids away from the television, computer and video games.

The interventions ran the gamut and included programs based in schools, at home, in communities and in clinics and WIC centers. Some involved education, exercise, monitoring or incentives.


What worked best? Interventions that set definite goals for less use of screen-based media or TV watching, ones that used monitoring devices, that had contingent feedback programs, offered clinic-based counseling, had a lot of parental participation, and/or included overweight or obese study participants.

Studies that used electronic monitoring devices were able to reduce TV viewing from 1.5 to three hours a day. There were some problems, however; in two studies half of the families that had the monitors didn’t use them or, if they did, didn’t want to use them again. The devices also tend to be expensive.

Interventions that used contingency programs also seemed to work well. In one study TV viewing was contingent on kids using a stationary bike. Watching TV was reduced by 20 hours a week -- one of the biggest drops among all the studies reviewed.

But among the papers there were few, the authors said, that focused on young children. The authors also recommended that future research look into whether reducing screen time affects obesity, whether interventions are effective in the long term, and whether taking TVs out of kids’ bedrooms makes a difference. More children representing racial and ethnic minorities should be included as well.

The study was published online recently in the journal Obesity.