The number of American children meeting the recommended amount screen-time is startlingly low. A report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicates that only about one-quarter (27 percent) of 12 to 15 year olds are spending 2 hours or less in front of a television screen or computer monitor on a daily basis. Two hours is the maximum screen-time given in guidelines by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and about three-quarters of youths are exceeding that limit.
The health concerns related to this behavior are not solely weight-related. Studies specific to adolescents have found that excessive amounts of screen-time are linked to higher blood pressure, and elevated serum cholesterol levels. This is concerning since the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute explains that blood pressure tends to rise with age. If current adolescents are starting at a higher level than previous generations, they are opening themselves to an even greater risk of heart disease later in life.
The report used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and the NHANES National Youth Fitness Survey, taken in 2012. Dr. Dimitri Christakis, co-author of the AAP’s guidelines, a Professor at the University of Washington, and director of the university’s Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development, outlined the limits of the data to paint an accurate picture to Today. “I think there are problems with the new report,” Christakis stated, adding “it probably overestimates and underestimates screen-time since it didn’t include tablets and smartphones, which children are using more and more.” This doesn’t have to be unhealthy, and his co-author agrees.
Provided that the devices are being used constructively–as an education tool, for example–it can benefit the user. “I like the concept of the ‘healthy media diet,’” Dr. Marjorie Hogan, a pediatrician, told HealthDay. “It’s all about moderation and choosing wisely.” Television programs, and the Internet provide incredible resources for learning and expanding horizons, but even with the potential benefits, Hogan did say that the findings are concerning.
Although weight isn’t the only health factor, a link between screen-time and weight did appear in the study. As the weight of a participant increased, the number reporting two hours of screen-time or less decreased. Among normal or underweight youths, 30.6 percent fell within the guideline compared to 23.1 percent of overweight respondents, and 20.0 of obese adolescents.
Parents can have a positive impact on their child’s health, and decrease screen-time Dr. Angela Diaz, director of the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center in New York City, stated. Also speaking with HealthDay, Diaz stressed the importance of a parent acting as a role model, leading through action and habits. “It’s important to try to establish children’s habits early in life,” Diaz said. “Try to create an environment where kids have choices other than TV and computers.”
Getting children to participate in after-school activities was chosen by Diaz as way for kids to spend less time watching television, or on the computer. She listed sports, dance, arts, music, and volunteering as potential opportunities. Schools can also foster interests in these areas, and around the country, a revival in physical education and arts is taking place.
NPR reported that around the country, in places like Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Nashville, and San Diego, public schools are making an effort to invest in gym and art classes for students. In Baltimore, the Baltimore Sun reports that City Council President Bernard “Jack” Young requested a briefing for the council from school officials on the state of arts and physical activity in the city’s schools.
With schools and parents united on creating an environment where adolescents can explore interests that take they away from a screen, and offer chances for physical activity, screen-time can decrease. At the same time, it might help to improve the weight of the nation. According to KidsHealth.org, one out of every three American children is considered overweight or obese. Using screens smartly and emphasizing activity at home and in school are two steps people can take in the wake of this report to combat health risks facing America’s adolescents.