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Parents Can Help Reduce Kids' Screen Time: Study

Parents can reduce their overweight child's screen time by nearly one hour per day if they can get their child to follow a physical activity skill development program and modify their diet, a new Australian study1 finds.  Girl climbing rope

Researchers at the Universities of Wollongong and Newcastle in Australia studied the effects of three intervention strategies - a physical activity skill development program, a dietary modification program and a combination of the two - on 165 Australian children. All participants were between ages five and nine and were classified as overweight.

In addition to monitoring the children's body mass index, diet, exercise and skill proficiency during the study, researchers also tracked how much time  the chldren spent watching television or DVD programs, playing electronic games and using the computer or Internet for fun.

At the end of the study period, children in all three intervention groups reduced their daily screen time by, on average, 55 minutes after six months and 39 minutes after one year.  Children in the dietary modification program were the only ones unable to maintain their screen time reduction after six months. Although this group reduced their daily screen time by 65 minutes after six months, they gained back more than half of this time after one year. One possible explanation for this, researchers suggest, could be a lack of targeted parental support related to screen time in the dietary modification group.

"In the physical activity skill development program (which was also included in the combination group), we targeted screen behaviors directly through a single behavior-change session with parents and follow-up telephone calls during the six month program," said Dylan Cliff, Ph.D., the lead author of the study. "The findings suggest that parental support could be the missing piece to help overweight children change their screen time behaviors."

A study released in 2010 by The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that U.S. youth ages eight to 18 spend an average of seven hours, 38 minutes each day using entertainment media such as a television and computer.

"It's a logical connection - the more time a child spends each day in sedentary behaviors, like in front of the computer or television, the less time they have to be active," said Cliff. "The results of our study indicate that with appropriate parental support, a physical activity and/or dietary intervention program can successfully help overweight children turn off the television, be more active and achieve a healthier weight. The ultimate goal for all of us is a healthier generation of children."

With the U.S. national goal of ending childhood obesity within a generation, experts worldwide are looking for ways to keep children active and away from the television.  ACSM and the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that children and adolescents participate in at least one hour of physical activity each day.

Source:American College of Sports Medicine.

1. Cliff D, Okely D, Morgan P, Steele J, Jones R, Colyvas K, Baur L, "Movement Skills and Physical Activity in Obese Children: Randomized Controlled Trial," Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 43(1):90-100, January 2011.

Posted January 15, 2011