“Television causes childhood obesity!” This headline that would not be far from the truth. Childhood obesity is a complex problem; but, research has shown us over and over again–reduce “screen time” and we reduce childhood obesity. Reduction of “inactivity” has more of an effect on childhood weight gain than putting kids in sports or fitness programs (these are healthy for many reasons, but they alone do not solve childhood obesity). The need to get our kids off their behinds is no secret to any of us; but still, 26% of all kids in the US spend over four hours per day in front of a TV, this doesn’t include other screen-time entertainment (e.g. video/computer/smart phone games).  Did you know that children burn more calories when they are sleeping or reading a book than when they are watching television?—That is because their brains are more active while sleeping or reading a book than when they passively watch TV.

Electronic entertainment is not going away; it is not all bad, it is just over-used.  We as parents need to control our kids’ use of it–Try giving your children a limit of six to eight hours per week; this allows for an occasional TV show, plus a movie or two on the weekend or a couple hours of video games with a friend Even if your kids and their friends are building Lego or block structures, drawing, doing craft projects, playing cards or board games, they are moving and using their brains a whole lot more than if they are watching TV or even playing a computer game. Plus they are getting amazing social benefits!

Another reason to limit TV and computer time: media messages our kids receive.

Let’s look at two types of food advertising aimed at children, sugared cereal and juice boxes:

Kids’ cereals contain more sugar than almost anything else—one popular kids brand contains 3 teaspoons sugar in a 30gm serving , that is 41% sugar mixed in with some flour, a synthetic vitamin mixture, artificial colors and flavors; the new “1/3 less sugar” version contains almost 2 ½ teaspoons sugar in a 32 gm serving, that is 31% sugar—some of these now have a little bit of whole grain flour and fiber added; they are far from 100% whole grain…. this is supposed to be breakfast?

100% fruit juice boxes tend to contain mostly apple or grape juice (basically sugar water). This is fruit sugar, so it is healthy, right? Think again. Sugar is sugar, whether it is from sugar cane, sugar beets, fruit or corn (as in high fructose corn syrup). If it is separated from the nutrient rich portions of fruit, or other plant, it has only empty calories and it promotes tooth decay.

I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, our kids are bombarded with ads for less than healthy foods and beverages by the media. When our kids watch general programming they get media messages promoting even more unhealthy foods, soda pop, beer, high fat/salt/sugar snack foods and fast foods……Unless you are sitting there with them, telling them why the ads are silly or bad, they will truly think all these foods are things they should want.

Recommendation for the month: Help your kids come up with a list of 10 things they can do that do not involve a TV or computer screen.