Parents, get your kids out to play

According to experts it's parents, not TV to be blamed for turning tiny tots into couch potatoes

child playing
Active play is imperative for a child's overall development, make sure your child gets it | Photo: S Braswell

Bunty spends several hours watching his favourite cartoons on TV or play video games. He is fast becoming a couch potato and his parents blame the TV for it. The clan of kids like Bunty is increasing at an alarming rate. Such kids would rather spend the time watching their favourite cartoon than go down and play.

Lack of physical activity among children is one of the factors that are contributing to increase in childhood obesity. But researchers at the Oregon State University [OSU] find that there's no point blaming the TV; it is parents who are responsible for the child's activity levels.

The OSU research team studied the behaviours of about 200 families to find that across all parenting styles, children just sat for four to five hours a day. "This is waking hours not including naps or feeding. Some parents counted quiet play—sitting and coloring or working on a puzzle—as a positive activity, but this is an age where movement is essential," said lead author David Schary. Unfortunately, all the children who were found sitting for several hours in a day were between ages two and four.

They found that while all the children in their study got more than required screen time, children who had "neglectful" parents, or whose parents weren’t home often, were spending 30 minutes more watching TV on an average each week day.

"A half an hour each day may not seem like much, but add that up over a week, then a month, and then a year and you have a big impact," Schary said. "One child may be getting up to four hours more active play every week, and this sets the stage for the rest of their life."

Weekends were in fact worse, as sedentary time increased nearly one hour each weekend day. According to Bradley Cardinal, study co-author, sedentary behavior goes against the natural tendencies of most preschool-age children.

"Toddlers and preschool-age children are spontaneous movers, so it is natural for them to have bursts of activity many minutes per hour," he said. "We find that when kids enter school, their levels of physical activity decrease and overall, it continues to decline throughout their life. Early life movement is imperative for establishing healthy, active lifestyle patterns, self-awareness, social acceptance, and even brain and cognitive development," said Cardinal.

In a separate study both authors found that even driving the children to active play activities encourages them to be active.

Oregon State University

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