Screen Time + No Playtime = Childhood Obesity

A look at how technology negatively impacts children’s health

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by Reena Taeput

When I was a kid, I would come home from school and go outside to play baseball, rollerblade with friends, or ride my bike up and down the street. Technology use was not really a priority for me during my free time. However, now times have changed with today’s generation appearing to have more screen time in front of tablets, televisions, and computers. This has a negative implication on children’s health. More specifically, childhood obesity has increased due to technology. Serious long term effects later on in adult life can result. Children who are overweight have a higher risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure when they grow up. Action needs to be taken now in order to curb this negative impact that technology has on youth.

Fascinating Fat Facts:

  • children in their teen years spend approximately seven to ten hours a day in front of a screen (Rosen et al., 2014, p. 364)
  • compared to 30 years ago, twice as many children and three times as many teens suffer from obesity (Rosen et al., 2014, p. 364)
  • about 25% of young Canadians (ranging in age from 2 to 17 years old) are considered to be overweight (Government of Canada, 2016)
  • “In the past 15 years, the incidence of obesity has grown by more than 50 percent in Canadian children age 6 to 11 and by 40 per cent in those between the ages of 12 and 17.” (Government of Canada, 2016)
  • “In terms of the impact of physical activity on health, a study of 4- to 11-year-old American children found that while 37% had low levels of active play and 65% had high levels of screen time, 26% had a combination of both” (Rosen et al., 2014, p.  366)

How is this happening?

Children spend more time using technology at home and at school and less time eating right and staying active. As a result of this their body mass index, or BMI, is predicted to be higher than normal (Rosen et al., 2014 p. 366). Obesity has additional side effects in terms of physical and emotional health. The Government of Canada (2016) has listed these as:

Physical health problems

  •     high blood pressure or heart disease
  •     type-2 diabetes
  •     sleep apnea and other breathing problems
  •     abnormal or missed menstrual cycles
  •     bone and joint problems
  •     reduced balance

Emotional health problems

  •     low self-esteem and negative body image
  •     depression
  •     feeling judged
  •     being teased or bullied

Why is this happening?

Our society is filled with “net-geners” who make technology an integral part of their lives (Tapscott, 2009). Today’s generation has a different attitude from previous generations (Tapscott, 2009). Net-geners value freedom, customization, collaboration, entertainment, speed and innovation (Tapscott, 2009, p. 74). All of which are highlighted through the use of digital tools. While these characteristics can be viewed positively at work or at school, they can severely impact a child’s  health. Our society’s reliance on technology makes it okay for young people to occupy their time in front of screens. In so doing, their physical well-being is impacted.

What can be done?

Parents have an integral role in their child’s development. They need to be diligent to ensure that kids are eating healthy. Also, parents need to limit the online time and promote physical activity. It is recommended that children get 90 minutes of daily physical activity (Government of Canada, 2016). Families need to make time to play together. (Fals, 2013) Children should also be given choice in what the family will do (Fals, 2013). This will help everyone get more active and avoid too much screen time.

Obesity in Children and Technology

Subrahmanyam, K., Kraut, R. E., Greenfield, P. M., & Gross, E. F. (2000, Fall-Winter). The Impact of Home Computer Use on Children’s Activities and Development. The Future of Children, 10(2), p 123.

References

CBC News. (2009). Fighting childhood obesity: is phys-ed enough?

Fals, A. (2013) . Childhood Obesity & Technology – What’s the connection?

Government of Canada.(2016). Childhood Obesity. Retrieved from: http://healthycanadians.gc.ca/healthy-living-vie-saine/obesity-obesite/risks-risques-eng.php

Rosen L.D., Lim, A.F., Felt, J., Carrier, L.M., Cheever, N.A. Lara-Ruiz, J.M., Mendoza, J.S., Rokkum, J. (2014, June). Media and technology use predicts ill-being among children, preteens and teenagers independent of the negative health impacts of exercise and eating habits. Computers in Human Behavior, 35. pp. 364-375.

Tapscott, D. (2009). The eight net gen norms. In Grown up digital
(pp.75-96). Toronto, Ontario: McGraw-Hill.

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