AHA recommends limiting screen time—how MEND helps children cut back and move more

Children are spending increasing amounts of time in front of screens and this may be linked to obesity.

A recent scientific statement by the American Heart Association (AHA) reviewed the relationship of inactivity with obesity and heart health in youth. It found that the adverse effects of sedentary behavior are mostly related to screen time and obesity and not so much to heart health risk.

A study found that in 2009, children and teens ages 8 to 18 years spent over seven hours a day on a screen, which included watching TV, using a computer or smartphone, or playing video games. Although traditional TV watching has decreased in the past 10 years, the use of other screen-based devices for viewing TV or other content has risen, leading to an overall increase in recreational screen time, particularly among teens.

Although there are inconsistencies among studies on the impact of sedentary behavior on weight and insufficient evidence to identify the amount of time on specific screen devices that may increase health risk, available evidence suggests it is a good idea to limit screen-based activities.

The AHA offers some ideas to help reduce screen time and other sedentary behaviors:

  • Make the bedroom and eating areas free from TV and screen devices. Having these devices in the bedroom can disrupt sleep, and poor quality sleep is linked to obesity.
  • Encourage children to play outdoors and engage in device-free social interactions with family and friends.
  • Devise and enforce age-appropriate screen time rules for children, and role model healthy screen-time behaviors.

The MEND program supports the AHA suggestions. Like many organizations, MEND recommends no more than two hours of recreational screen time per day. MEND offers these tips to help move kids away from the screen:

  • Help your children create a fun indoor and outdoor activity list as an alternative to watching TV. This can include active play such as hopscotch, jumping rope and skateboarding.
  • Have a “boredom-busters” box that your children can access at any time. Include sports and activity equipment that they like to use and are on their activity list, such as jump ropes, balls and racquets.
  • Plan time with your children so you can play games with them. Some ideas:
    • Create a family obstacle course using household items such as balls, boxes and baskets. Let the children decide what they need to do, such as crawl through an open box, throw a ball into an empty basket or garbage can.
    • Do a scavenger hunt. Have one person hide some household items indoors or around the outside of your home, then have the others search for the items.
    • Play outdoor games with the family, such as an egg and spoon race or a potato sack race using burlap bags or large garbage bags to cross the finish line.