Too Much Screen Time for Kids Can Lead to Obesity, American Heart Association Says

Excessive time with tablets, smartphones and TV can affect kids’ eating habits, sleeping habits and physical playtime.
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By Ashley Edwards Walker, Contributing Writer
Published August 9, 2018
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Image: Brittany Lee Neal

You’ve likely heard that too much time in front of the TV, computer or smart device can affect kids’ cognitive development. Now, the American Heart Association (AHA) is the latest authority to warn that an excess of screen time can impact their physical development, increasing their odds of becoming overweight or obese.

In a new statement published in the medical journal Circulation, the AHA says too much time screen time makes kids sedentary, which can lead to poor heart health and obesity, and reiterates its recommendation to limit kids’ time with smartphones, tablets, computers and TV.

While the amount of time children and teens spend watching television has been steadily decreasing over the last decade, the number of recreational hours (meaning not for school purposes) spent using other types of screens, like smartphones, has been increasing, leading to an overall jump in screen time. In fact, the AHA estimates school-aged children are now sedentary for about eight hours per day and “most are engaging in excessive screen time.”

Just think about that—eight hours is basically a full work day. That’s 40 hours a week (plus weekends!) of doing zero physical activity. And it’s not just a lack of exercise that’s concerning; screen time can affect children’s sleeping habits and even their eating habits, researchers say.

“Although the mechanisms linking screen time to obesity are not entirely clear, there are real concerns that screens influence eating behaviors, possibly because children ‘tune out’ and don’t notice when they are full when eating in front of a screen,” Tracie Barnett, a researcher at the INRS-Institut Armand Frappier and Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center in Montreal and one of the statement’s authors, says in a press release.

Wondering what’s considered “too much”? The AHA recommends no more than one to two hours of recreational screen time a day for children and teenagers. The recommendation is even less for kids under age 2: Other than video chatting, the AAP advises parents to cut out all screen time entirely for little ones under 18 months old.

So what’s a parent to do? The AHA suggests removing TVs and and other “recreational screen-based devices” from kids’ bedrooms and introducing a strict no-screen policy during meal times. They also encourage parents to make sure their kids get device-free social time and plenty of outdoor play. Of course, as the parent, it’s up to you to set–and enforce—a healthy family media plan.

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