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17 June 2018

Too Much Screen Time Is Taking a Toll on Kids' Health

Too much screen time is taking a toll on kids’ health
by Rujuta Diwekar, The Times of India

A few years ago, my partner and I were looking for a centrally located hotel in Manhattan that wouldn’t cost us the world. Travel websites directed us to one right in the middle of the city with just one con — a noisy lobby as it was a popular night stay option for school trips. Ah! Kids screaming across hallways is no disturbance for us Indians, so we promptly booked it.

The next day we walked into a hotel lobby packed with more than 100 school kids and a handful of teachers. As I walked towards the elevators, I felt something amiss. And then it struck me — there was no noise. There were 100-odd kids but they weren’t talking to each other, much less screaming or running around. They were all slouching on various chairs and sofas, or against the wall, backs rounded, heads down and eyes zeroed in on their phone screens.




Back home we have all seen that parents of kids, even as young as 18 months, are walking into flights, restaurants or even our homes with the iPads in hand. It’s like parents are under constant pressure to ensure that their children are not bored. And nothing like a phone, iPad or tab to overstimulate the bored child. Well, research is constantly saying that boredom is critical for a child and, in fact, essential for creativity to blossom. But then I am no expert on that subject so let me focus on what I do for a living — weight loss.

The problem with screen time is that it comes with sitting which we all know by now is an independent risk factor for developing lifestyle diseases. And when obesity strikes, it rarely asks if you were playing Fortnite, learning a new language on your gadget or just watching Peppa Pig. In that sense it is democratic, if you are watching, you are sitting, and if you are sitting, obesity is coming.

I.family was a major research project on health, food and lifestyle of European families for over five years and focused on children and obesity. They found a positive correlation between screen time, consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (packaged juices, colas, etc) and anthropometry (incidences of overweight and obese kids) across the EU region. One of the reasons for this are the blurred lines between entertainment and advertisements that our kids consume on the gadgets. These findings resonate with the reality across the globe, especially in our part of the world.

A recent study has also shown that the incidence of non-alchoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in Indian kids is rising. This is essentially a lifestyle disease but left unattended, it could lead to liver damage similar to that seen in alcoholics. The standard advice for this is to reduce junk food, especially that loaded with sugar, and to exercise. But when it comes to kids, we have to work at understanding the driving factors and how gadgets influence both consumption of junk food and sedentary behavior.

The fact that a lot of school work is now done on laptops and tabs makes it even more important that parents lay down strict rules for screen time — be it gaming, social media or anything else. It’s easier said than done and we often tend to give in to pester power, a child’s ability to demand the gadget and throw a tantrum until the demand is met. For all parents, who feel helpless against this universal force, science is saying what your grandmom always knew — saying NO to kids for gadgets and the resulting junk food demand protects them from cardio-metabolic risks in the future.

Diwekar is a Mumbai-based nutritionist.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-times/too-much-screen-time-is-taking-a-toll-on-kids-health/articleshow/64346495.cms

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