Reduce Screen Time To Trim the Fat

Childhood obesity may be prevented through reducing the amount of time kids spend using screen media

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Trimming TV time may take childhood obesity down a notch. To help parents and inactive kids take a stand against childhood obesity, public health experts recommended cutting down screen media time among kids.

In a recent report, the Community Preventive Services Task Force (CPSTF) found that reducing the amount of TV and screen media helped lower kids' risk of being overweight and obese. Screen media time is time spent in front of a television, computer or cellphone screen.

Based on a past study, the task force confirmed that childhood obesity was tied to screen media exposure. In this new report, strong evidence supported that limiting screen time was effective in improving youth health and weight status, the task force authors wrote.

Barry Sears, MD, president of the Inflammation Research Foundation in Marblehead, MA, and creator of the Zone diet, told dailyRx News that simply reducing kids’ screen time alone would not be enough to stop childhood obesity. Parents can take other steps to keep their children healthy, he said.

“If the goal is to reduce childhood obesity, then there are more effective measures than simply reducing sedentary screen time," Dr. Sears said. "First and foremost is better meal planning that promotes [fullness] as opposed to hunger."

Dr. Sears continues, "The second is spending more interactive time with the child as opposed to using the computer or TV as a babysitter. Third is getting the child outside the house making it less likely to easily get to the kitchen."

The CPSTF — a group of public health experts formed by the US Department of Health and Human Services — reviewed 49 past studies that focused on the benefits of interventions only limiting screen time (screen-time-only interventions) and those both limiting screen time and adding other health components (screen-time-plus interventions).

Interventions were defined as ways to reduce inactive leisure screen time. They were also designed to help kids change their behavior to maintain low screen time. The CPSTF said this would help kids spend less time in front of the TV or computer in the long run.

The CPSTF noted that interventions could include classroom-based education, family- or friend-based social support, ways to track and monitor screen time, and coaching or counseling sessions.

The data showed that, for screen time watched, screen-time-only interventions reduced about 82 minutes of media per day. Screen-time-plus interventions reduced about 22 minutes per day.

Screen-time-plus interventions helped kids become more physically active. Kids who reduced their screen media time took and average of 130 more steps per day.

Concerning diet, screen-time-only interventions resulted in kids eating about 75 calories fewer per day on average. Screen-time-plus interventions resulted in kids eating about 118 calories fewer per day.

Reducing screen time among kids improved their health, the CPSTF said.

“Behavioral screen time interventions were found to be effective among children aged 13 years and younger,” the task force wrote.

The CPSTF noted, though, that only children ages 13 and younger were included in this review. They recommended that future reviews also study the effects of reducing screen time among middle and high school students, as well as adults.

This study has not yet been published but is available in The Guide to Community Preventive Services.

The authors disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
December 11, 2014
Last Updated:
December 19, 2014