March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
What occupies today's kids for an average of seven hours per day? The screens on computers, TVs and mobile devices. Children spend on average almost 49 hours per week with media. That's more time than they spend with their parents! Even some kids under age 2 watch one to two hours of television per day.
Chances are good that your kids are in front of screens more than you think they are. Do they watch a show while getting dressed? How about while eating breakfast or waiting for the bus? Do they play video games or use a tablet computer before dinner? Ask your kids about this. What you learn might be surprising.
Too Much Screen Time and Unhealthy Behaviors
Ungluing your kids from the TV set and other screens may have a positive impact on nutrition. Though TV and other screen time can be entertaining and even educational, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, too much can contribute to "many different risks and health problems." Studies have found that watching TV is one of several factors that may influence obesity in children. Having a TV in their bedroom ups their chances of being overweight even more, says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, RD, former spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Unfortunately, non-nutritious food and screen time seem to go together, boosting calorie intake. Studies have also found that television advertising can influence the amount and types of foods that children eat.
When kids — and adults — spend time in front of a screen, they're not burning up the extra calories they would if they played sports, rode bikes, walked dogs or did chores. Fortunately, limiting TV and other screen time helps kids free up time for other activities, including being physically active.
These guidelines will help your family maintain just the right amount of screen time.
- Limit TV and other forms of electronic media to less than two hours per day for kids age 2 and older. Discourage any screen time for children younger than 2 years of age, according to recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Keep screens out of kids' bedrooms and establish a media-use plan for your family that includes curfews at bedtimes.
- With the exception of an occasional family movie and pizza night, keep all televisions and devices off while eating. Instead, the whole family should focus on the food and the conversation. "Families that eat dinner together at least three to four times per week are healthier and maintain a better weight," explains Jamieson-Petonic.
- Sit down with your kids to help them select the specific shows they'll watch, giving them some control and helping them make decisions. Watch with them when you can.