How active are children supposed to be?
The ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) recommend that children take part in at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day for optimal physical and mental health. However, recent data in Ireland shows that only 19% of primary school children and 12% of secondary school students achieve these recommendations (Woods et al., 2010).
What are the recommended upper limits of screen time per day for children?
In addition to this physical inactivity epidemic in Ireland we are also experiencing an increase in the prevalence of sedentary behaviours, particularly in relation to screen time. The ACSM recommend sedentary behaviours such as watching television, playing video games and phone use, should be limited to less than 2 hours per day, however the World Health Organisation found that almost 66% of children worldwide are spending two and more hours a day engaging in these activities (Inchley et al., 2017). The Growing Up in Ireland study that was conducted recently shows that at the weekend, a staggering 51% of boys and 39% of girls engage in more than three hours of screen time per day (Growing Up in Ireland 2017).
What are the potential consequences of a high volume of screen time in children?
Without a doubt, these long periods spent in front of screens has resulted in less time spent being physically active. What we are seeing now in the research community is that children do not engage in physical play time like they used to, and this is seriously negatively impacting their communication skills, social skills, physical fitness, health and fundamental movement skills. Fundamental movement skills include throwing, catching, coordination, balance and many other basic skills that we need for daily life.
This reduction in physical activity is also one of the major contributing factors to the rise in the prevalence of childhood obesity that exists in Ireland today. In fact, the risk of a child becoming overweight decreases by 20-25% if they watch TV or engage in sedentary behaviours for less than 2-3 hours per day and by 40% if this is reduced to one hour per day (Eisenmann et al., 2002). In general youth who watch less TV tend to engage in more physical activity which significantly increases daily energy expenditure, functional fitness, physical fitness and health. These youth are also less likely to engage in the snacking behaviours that are associated with high quantities of sitting time or TV watching. From a health and functional perspective, it is very important to be aware of the amount of screen time and sedentary behaviour that children engage in and put plans in place to reduce this.
Top 10 tips for reducing screen time
In order to tackle childhood obesity and improve the physical and mental health of our children, it is vital to encourage physical activity and significantly reduce screen time.
Top tips for increasing physical activity and reducing screen time:
- Record the amount of screen time (TV watching, phones, iPad etc.) that kids engage in per day for one week. This will bring awareness to where the kids currently are in relation to the recommended upper limit of 2 hours screen time per day. Targets can then be set to reduce this.
- Record the amount of time kids spend being sedentary (sitting) per day for one week. Once you have done this look for opportunities each day where it is possible to reduce sedentary time and increase physical activity time.
- Try not to use the TV as constant background noise as it will act as a constant distraction and kids are much more likely to watch TV if it is on. Try to only turn it on to watch specific programmes.
- Try using the ‘sleep’ function on devices to switch screens off after 30 continuous minutes.
- Avoid using the TV for winding down. This does not ‘wind down’ kids. In fact, research shows that it actually has the complete opposite stimulant effect. Screen time before bed time is having such a negative impact on the quality and quantity of kids sleep that we have created and will post a blog on same in the coming days. Instead try to encourage behaviours such as reading a book. Research shows that this activity results in better relaxation and sleep quality.
- Avoid TVs or computers in children’s bedrooms.
- Schedule a defined period of time in the day when screens are permitted but cannot be used outside of these times. Please note that screens should not be used for more than an hour at a time or two hours total per day.
- Organise a physical activity each day to replace time that was previously spent on screens. There are lots of options for this and we have outlined some examples in a previous blog on our website. For some ideas of activities for kids, please follow the link below: http://www.truefitness.ie/news/physical-activity-recommendations-children-youth-2-18-years-acsm-2015/ .
- Talk to your child and explain to them why you don’t want them spending too much time in front of screens.
- Pick a time each week when you can do things together as a family, such as going to the park or bringing the dogs for a walk. This yields numerous physical and mental benefits for the adults and the children.
Inchley, J., Currie, D., Jewell, J., Breda, J. and Barnekow, V. (2017) ‘Adolescent obesity and related behaviours: trends and inequalities in the WHO European Region, 2002–2014’, Observations from the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) WHO collaborative cross-national study. Copenhagen, Denmark: World Health Organisation. [online] Available from: http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/339211/WHO_ObesityReport_2017_v3.pdf
Woods, C., Moyna, N. and Quinlan, A. (2010) ‘The children’s sport participation and physical activity study’ (CSPPA study). [online] Available from: https://www.ucd.ie/t4cms/CCLSP_Study_Report1.pdf
Eisenmann, J.C., Bartee, R.T. and Wang, M.Q. (2002) ‘Physical activity, TV viewing, and weight in US youth: 1999 Youth Risk Behavior Survey’, Obesity, 10(5), pp.379-385. [online] Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12006637
Growing Up in Ireland Study Team. (2017) ‘Growing Up in Ireland: Socio-emotional Development & Play at 7/8 years of age’, Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) Research Series. [online] Available from: http://www.esri.ie/pubs/SUSTAT63.pdf