The Kid's Doctor: Reduce 'screen' time to help kids' health

A recent study released in pediatrics looks at mounting research showing that a child's media use may be linked to their body weight, not only due to the fact that they don't get as much exercise if they are watching TV and using other media, but also due to other issues related to media exposure.

The new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics, entitled "Children, Adolescents, Obesity and the Media," states that, "American society couldn't do a worse job at the moment of keeping children fit and healthy — too much TV, too many food ads, not enough exercise, and not enough sleep."

It has become my routine during well child exams, beginning as young as 2 years of age, to ask parents, as well as older children, "Do you have a TV in your room?" and "Do you have a computer or DVD player in your room?"

I'm still amazed at the number of young children who answer "yes" to these questions. Fortunately, many also respond "no" to the TV query, then ask me when they may have a TV in their room!

My standard answer is: "When you leave home and go to college or work." Most parents are relieved with this response. A few don't understand why I'm even asking the question.

The new AAP policy statement reiterates that parents need to be paying attention to the amount of "screen" time their children get daily. Total non-educational screen time (again, the definition of "educational" may vary from family to family) should be no more than two hours per day. This limit should also be enforced in child care centers, after-school programs and community centers, the AAP states.

According to the statement, the many ads for junk food and fast food only increase a child's desire for these foods. It's easy to keep your children from begging for Cocoa Puffs or Fruit Loops (just randomly selected, you can fill in your cereal) if they've never seen ads for these sugary cereals.

Children who are allowed to stay up late at night watching TV are not only exposed to numerous ads, but at the same time they don't get enough sleep — a combination that puts them at greater risk for childhood obesity.

Dr. Victor Strasburger, one of the lead authors for the policy statement, notes: "Kids see 5,000 to 10,000 food ads per year, most of them for junk food and fast food."

By asking parents and their children about screen time, pediatricians can encourage a family to have a well thought out plan for limiting such exposure while encouraging outside activity.

These recommendations will hopefully translate into less screen time, less exposure to advertising, less sedentary activity and ultimately a healthier weight for children.

What do you think? I would love your comments and feedback.

DR. SUE HUBBARD is a nationally known pediatrician and co-host of "The Kid's Doctor" radio show. Submit questions at

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