The World Health Organization declared childhood obesity as one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. Since the 1970s, childhood obesity rates have tripled in the US, and now, 1 in every 6 American children is obese. But in addition to the estimated 12.5 million children that are obese, there are also about 11 million more who are overweight.
Childhood obesity is not just a physical health concern, it can negatively affect a child’s emotional and social development too. And the record shows that obese children are more likely to become obese adults, which sets them up for the development of chronic health problems like heart disease and diabetes at a much younger age.
Cause of Childhood Obesity
So what’s to blame? There isn’t a simple answer to that; but experts agree that it’s a combination of a diet filled with processed and fast foods and lack of physical exercise due to an increase in “screen time” — or the amount of time spent with technology. Because increasing technology use is such a big thing right now, we’re going to focus on that. That’s not to say that it’s the only culprit, but we want to give you a little perspective on why technology may not be as harmless as you think.
Technology Usage Soars
The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that the average child spends around seven hours each day watching TV, browsing the internet, and playing video games. An obvious issue with this is that as the amount of screen time increases, the amount of time spent outside running around and burning off calories — and energy — decreases; however, there are other not-so-obvious issues too.
In a 2008 study, the Journal of the American Dietetic Association reported that nine out of 10 food advertisements shown during Saturday morning children’s cartoons are foods that are low in nutrients, yet high in fat, sodium, and sugar. Even though you may not realize it, this food marketing has a major impact on the foods your child wants to eat. Children are said to be even more susceptible to this food marketing because, unlike adults, they have a hard time telling the difference between the TV show they’re watching and the advertisements.
Technology Increases Snacking
Screen time is also associated with an increase in snacking or mindless eating. According to research from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, kids who spent more time in front of a screen — regardless of whether it was a computer, TV, or video game — not only snacked more than children who spent less time using technology, but they also ate fewer healthy snacks. Other research shows that the more stimulating programs, like action games or high-paced cartoons, can also lead to an increase in snacking during the day.
Technology Interferes With Sleep
Technology can also disrupt sleep, which can translate to weight gain. On one hand, focusing on a screen right before bed can disrupt circadian rhythms and melatonin, which can lead to difficulty falling asleep and cause restless sleep. On the other hand, if a child has a television in his or her bedroom and usage is not being monitored, it may lead to later bedtimes, and a decreased amount of the restorative sleep needed for the body to function properly. As we discussed in a previous article, a lack of adequate sleep can cause an increase in ghrelin, the hormone that tells you you’re hungry, and a decrease in leptin, the hormone that tells you you’re full. On average, a person who doesn’t get enough sleep eats an extra 300 calories per day and snacks more often than someone who is well-rested.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children and adolescents spend only one to two hours per day in front of a screen, at most. This means time spent watching TV and playing on the computer or a tablet combined.
You can help limit screen time by getting involved in playtime with your kids. Pick an activity that you both enjoy and get outside and work up a sweat together. Encourage your kids to get off the couch by playing with them. Model good behavior by putting away your cell phone or tablet and getting fully engaged in the moment.
Weight Loss Program
If you have a child who is overweight or obese, we can help. Valley Medical Weight Control’s program for adolescents includes 4 weeks of FDA-approved medication for children aged 12 and older, a bottle of our Mega Multivitamin and Minerals, a bottle of probiotics, a physician consultation, and weekly weigh-ins: all for just $120!
To learn more, stop by or call us at any of our locations:
North Phoenix: 602-374-3374