by Sari Harrar
Every extra hour of weekly TV that little kids watch translates into more abdominal fat and lower fitness levels years later, say University of Montreal researchers. In a new study, scientists asked the parents of 2- to 4-year-olds about their kids’ TV-watching habits. They checked back when the kids were in fourth grade. Here’s what they found:
- More TV at age 2 ½ meant lower jumping ability by fourth grade. Every hour of TV kids watched at a young age meant their jumps were 1/10th of an inch shorter -- a small difference researchers say reflects lower leg-muscle strength and less time spent running around and having active fun.
- More TV meant wider waistlines. Kids who watched 18 hours of television at age 4 ½ had waists that were 1/3 of an inch bigger -- a sign they had more abdominal fat, which can raise risk for diabetes and heart disease later in life.
How much TV is your kid watching? The antidote? Experts widely recommend limiting kids’ screen time to 2 hours a day -- with less for younger kids. But in the real world, two-thirds of infants and toddlers watch a screen an average of 2 hours a day; kids under age 6 watch an average of about 2 hours of screen media a day, primarily TV and videos or DVDs; and kids and teens 8 to 18 years spend nearly 4 hours a day in front of a TV screen and almost 2 additional hours on the computer (outside of schoolwork) and playing video games.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that kids under 2 years old not watch any TV and that those older than 2 watch no more than 1 to 2 hours a day of quality programming.Try these steps for reducing TV time in your house, recommended by the American Heart Association:
- Have a Plan: If you’re going to turn off the TV, be ready to offer alternatives. Plan activities that you can do with your kids.
- Rearrange the Furniture: Move the furniture so that the television is not focal point of the room.
- Take the TV out of the Bedroom: Research shows that kids who have TVs in their room tend to spend almost 1 ½ hours more in a typical day watching TV than their peers without a set in their room.
- Plan TV-watching in Advance: Have your kids pick their favorite shows each week. Turn the TV on for those shows and turn it off afterwards. That way you and your kids won’t end up watching whatever comes on next.
- Turn Meal Time into Family Time: Turn off the TV during family meal time and start chatting.
- Don’t Make TV a Reward: Don’t use television, video games, and computer time as a reward or a punishment as it can encourage bad habits and make all the gadgets seem more important than they are.
- Make Gradual Changes: Try cutting back on screen time a little bit each week, and make sure you’re replacing it with other fun activities.
- Be a Great Role Model: Your kids won’t like being restricted to two hours of TV watching if you can veg out for four hours. The best way to influence kids’ behavior is to set a good example.