Most parents are guilty of popping their little one down in front of the television for a few minutes of harmless distraction to give Mum or Dad a few minutes to get something done or even to just grab a breath and regain a little sanity but at what point does television viewing by small children move from harmless to harmful?
There are the same benefits of TV for children as there are for adults – fun, education and relaxation but whereas adult make their own decisions regarding the amount of viewing and the impacts excessive viewing may have on their health, children have those decisions made for them. It is the responsibility of the caregiver to inform themselves of the long-term ramifications and make appropriate decisions and guidelines regarding television viewing by small children.
Recent studies have found that children as young as three years old are watching on average 90 minutes per day, can turn on the television by themselves and are accumulating over 9 hours a week. Did you know that almost every other type of activity, even reading a book, burns more calories than watching television? The long-term risks that this type of sedentary lifestyle brings to a child include:
• weight gain
• problems with learning social norms
• bringing about a prevalence of learning difficulties
A recent Deakin University study of 427 Australian children aged 3 – 5 found that less than 17% of their time awake was spent being physically active. The time spent on activity equated to 36 minutes of moderate-vigorous activity and 110-120 minutes of light-moderate activity during a 12 hour period. The results fly in the face of Australian guidelines that state children aged 1 – 5 should be physically active for at least three hours, over the day, every day. Researchers stated that ‘Physical activity is one of a number of factors that influence the healthy growth and development of children. The value of physical activity for young children is beyond doubt, and lack of adequate physical activity is viewed as a major contributing factor to overweight and obesity, which can track into adulthood and pose many other cardiovascular and health risks. Given that early childhood is a critical period of the establishment of eating and activity behaviour, prevention strategies to ensure that children develop healthy physical activity behaviour should start as early in life as possible’.
Australia is one of only two countries to set limits for sedentary activity – less than one hour of television viewing per day for those aged 2-5 and no television at all for children under two but it appears that the message just isn’t reaching parents. Yes, television viewing has its place but not as a routine activity, not for long periods of time, and not at the expense of more physical activity. While children too need relaxation and down-time they also need physical activity to become a healthy, fully functioning adult.
If you are going to allow your child to watch television you really should be vigilant with the channel or type of programing that they view. A study has found that children who are heavily exposed to unhealthy food advertising consume, on average, 40% more calories than children that view television that has no ads.