The Case Against Screens–Tim Elmore, Growing Leaders

Michelle Obama has launched a crusade against obesity in children in the U.S. It’s a noble cause.  May I dig a bit deeper and share one “obese reason” why young people struggle with this problem?

Screens.

We all love them and use them daily. But sitting in front of a screen—TV, computers, or video games—is causing both obesity and lower grades in school. In other words, weight is going up. Grades are going down.

Although there’s a long history of public concern over the impact of media on children’s psychosocial development (Center on Media and Child Health 2005; Lowery and DeFleur 1995), it’s only been the past two decades that researchers have begun to uncover the link between media use and the physical health of kids. Data from large-scale national surveys conducted during the 1980s and 1990s reveal a correlation between the prevalence of overweight and the number of hours kids spend watching TV (Andersen et al. 1998; Dietz and Gortmaker 1985).

It is not surprising—given easy access and a general lack of parental concern about TV use—that the average child will spend 4.5 hours a day looking at a screen of some type, (APPC 2000). This sedentary posture causes them to grow fat. Obama’s reports tell us obesity has risen over the last decade—today 33% of kids are overweight or obese. The number of babies in America who are overweight has doubled in the last six years.

Further, there is mounting experimental evidence that reducing TV use can have a positive impact on children’s health. These findings have influenced the American Academy of Pediatrics to recommend “no more than 1 to 2 hours of quality TV and videos a day for older children and no screen time for children under the age of two.” (American Academy of Pediatrics 2005).

My seventeen year old son, Jonathan, and I had a conversation about the impact of screens on his life. We talked about these findings. Although he is far from overweight, he immediately recognized the negative impact of video games and TV on his life. I am pleased to say that it was him, not me, who drew the conclusion that he should watch fewer hours of TV and play fewer video games. He made the decision right there at the restaurant where we sat down to eat lunch. Then…we both decided to order a salad.