Fit Kids

Unplug 'n Play

Utahns love our screen time! We are at the top of the list for ownership of televisions and gaming systems in the United States. Screen time - or time spent in front of a television, video games, computers, and personal handheld electronic devices - make up a large part of our lifestyle and our bodies are showing the results.  Utahns are becoming more and more overweight and obese, in spite of the wide range of recreational activities available outside our front doors.

boy with remote control

Excessive television watching and video game playing encourages a sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy eating behaviors that can lead to obesity in children.  In 2008, over 1 in 5 children in Utah are overweight or obese as a result of unhealthy behaviors. 

The average American child watches three to five hours of television every day and spends between 20-33 minutes a day playing video games.

By high school graduation, most children have spent more time in front of the television than in the classroom! In fact, television viewing accounts for more of a child's time than any other activity except sleeping! 

Adults are just as affected, especially in regards to web-enabled cell phones and computer time at work.  Additionally, the average adult watches about 4 hours 35 minutes of television per day.  The average American home has the television on for well over 8 hours every day. That is an hour more than just a decade ago. In an Osaka, Japan study, people who watched TV or used a computer more than three hours per evening were more likely than others to report insufficient sleep-even though their actual sleep duration was only 12 minutes less, on average.  Electronic media may increase your need for sleep and undercut its quality, say the researchers.

two small children using a laptop computer

Set limits. Know how much your child watches television and how much they play video games. Don't hesitate to reduce the amount of time that they engage in these activities.

Minimize the influence of TV in your home. Make it a practice to keep the television off during family mealtimes. Make conversation a priority in your home; don't center the furniture in your family room around the television. Avoid having television sets in individual bedrooms since this tends to physically isolate family members, minimize family interaction and decrease the amount of physical activity.

Don't use television to reward or punish your child. Practices like this make television seem even more important to children.

Provide alternatives. Parents are responsible for how much television their children watch. Encourage both indoor and outdoor activities for your child. Examples of this would be field trips, hobbies, sports, reading, and chores. Regular physical activity is critical for the health and well being of children especially since the percentage of obese children has been increasing steadily over the last 20 years.

Be a role model. Children are more likely to engage in physical activity if their parents are doing it with them. Create opportunities to be physically active with your children. Go on a family bike ride, play catch, hike together, play tag or hide and go seek. Designate certain evenings for special family events that include physically active games, sports, or pastimes.

Try some of these activities to plug back into life!

  • Read a book together.
  • Get outside; play catch, go for a walk, be active as a family.
  • Check out your local recreation or community center. Many locations have family oriented classes and services.
  • Attend a play or concert in your community.
  • Plant a garden. Visit www.wasatchgardens.org for some ideas.
  • Play a board game.
  • Plan an active reward at the end of the week if you reach your goal of no screen time.
  • Set up a scavenger/treasure hunt around your neighborhood or yard. The winner gets to pick the next game.
  • Take some time to talk as a family.
  • Whatever activity you choose, focus on having fun instead of winning or losing.
  • Look up your local community calendar. You can find these in local newspapers or online. Most events are listed a month in advance.
  • Visit a state or national park. Most parks have a Junior Ranger Program that will help kids learn more about their world.
  • Visit www.familiesonlinemagazine.com/school/summer-fun-list.html  to find other ideas for you and your family

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