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  • Writer's pictureJoe Ferraro

Excessive screen time hurts kids' health

Updated: Aug 21, 2021

Too much screen time leads to an increased risk of poor health in children and young adults, the American Heart Association warned in a statement published in the journal Circulation.  

Prolonged sedentary behavior is a factor in conditions like overweight, obesity and sleep disorders among young people, the report said. 

The AHA said the average 8-year-old spends eight hours a day using various forms of media, and among teenagers, the number approaches an average of 11 hours of media consumption daily, although experts recommend no more than one to two hours of a day depending on age. 

Tracie A. Barnett, an expert on pediatric obesity and sedentary behavior at Université du Québec in Montreal and one of the authors of the AHA statement, told CNN, "There are real concerns that screens influence eating behaviors, possibly because children 'tune out' and don't notice when they are full when eating in front of a screen." 

Although TV viewing among kids has dropped over the past two decades, newer devices have resulted in more screen time overall, the report said, and obesity rates among 2- to 19-year-olds have risen from 10 percent in the late 1980s and early 1990s to 18.5 percent in 2016.

Dr. David Hill, chairman of the Council on Communication and Media for the American Academy of Pediatrics, told CNN the rise in pediatric obesity is also related to the advertising of unhealthy foods on television.

But the experts also blame parents for not setting limits and for their inability to put down their own electronic devices, a behavior that their children mirror. 

Cardiologist Dr. Tara Narula told CBS News parents need to be fully present with their children by putting down their phone or tablet, because kids "pick up on exactly what you're doing," she said.

Dr. Goutham Rao, a co-author of the AHA report and chair of the Department of Family Medicine at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, said kids will find something else to do if you say no to screen time.  

“Most of the time, whatever [the other activity] is, is going to me much healthier than watching TV,” he said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children ages 2 to 5 be limited to one hour of screen time a day, while Barnett and Rao suggest parents work with older children in coming up with screen time rules then stick to them. 

They also strongly recommend keeping electronic devices out of bedrooms, where the light and sounds from a cellphone, for example, can disrupt sleep.

by Anne Stych, Contributing Writer

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