By Melinda Carstensen
In the midst of a national childhood obesity epidemic, new data shows kids are spending too much time in front of their TVs and computers.
A report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals nearly three-quarters of kids ages 12 to 15 get more than two hours of screen time per day, the maximum amount of time recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
In the CDC report, published in the July issue of the “NCHS Data Brief,” 15 percent of teens reported watching four or more hours of TV daily, and 12 percent said they used their computers for four or more hours a day. About 99 percent of young people reported watching TV daily.
The survey didn’t take time spent on smartphones into account.
Screen time, like sitting, has been linked to obesity, as well as high blood pressure and cholesterol. In this study, the more screen time a child had, the more likely he or she was to be overweight or obese.
Marjorie Hogan, a pediatrician who contributed to the AAP’s screen time guidelines, said not all screen time is bad, but balance is key.
“I like the concept of the ‘healthy media diet,’” Hogan told HealthDay. “It’s all about moderation and choosing wisely.”
This age group’s screen-use habits hadn’t previously been studied using these sources, said Kirsten Herrick, a National Center for Health Statistics epidemiologist and lead author of the report.
Herrick told USA Today that the fast pace of technology made it tough to examine kids’ screen time.
“We don't know, for example, how kids would have categorized watching TV on a cellphone,” she said. “ … We might have an overestimation or an underestimation. We’re really not sure.”
The survey also doesn’t differentiate recreational and educational screen time.
“It’s much more complicated now than when I was growing up when there was TV or no TV, or good TV and bad TV,” Dimitri Christakis, George Adkins Professor at the University of Washington and director of the university’s Center for Child Health, Behavior & Development, said in a Q&A with NBC’s Today show.
Screen time consisting of playing violent video games like Grand Theft Auto wasn’t distinguished from a Civil War documentary, for example.
“The short answer is that parents shouldn’t only focus on the amount of screen time, but on the content and quality of it,” added Christakis, who also helped write the AAP guidelines.
The AAP recommends that parents establish “screen-free” zones at home, where there are no TVs computers or games, and that they use quality rating systems for shows, movies and games.“It is important for kids to spend time on outdoor play, reading, hobbies, and using their imaginations in free play,” the AAP notes on its Media and Children page. “A child's brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.”