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Pediatricians Recommend A Media Diet For Kids To Fight Obesity

D'oh! Forget the error on screen. Parking in front of it is the bigger mistake.
D'oh! Forget the error on screen. Parking in front of it is the bigger mistake.

A quick stroll around the mall is all the reminder you need that an epidemic of childhood obesity is all around us.

And the media, defined very broadly, is a big part of the big problem, according to a leading group of pediatricians. Kids don't burn many calories sitting and watching TV or messing around on the computer or game console.

So the American Academy of Pediatrics is prescribing some changes to help kids stave off excess weight in a policy statement just published in the journal Pediatrics.

First, at each well-child visit, pediatricians should ask these two questions:

  • How much time are you spending in front of a screen each day?
  • Is there a TV or device with an Internet connection in your bedroom?
  • The answers can help guide a recommendation for health, including more active pursuits. Kids, the pediatricians say, shouldn't spend more than 2 hours a day plopped down in front of the computer, TV or other glowing device. The littlest kids — those 2 and under — shouldn't watch any TV at all.

    A little extra time staring at a screen can add up to big weight gains before you know it. It's also the case, the pediatricians say, that consuming media can mean consuming advertising messages for junky foods, another factor in the weight-gain formula.

    So another part of the prescription is neutralizing those ads. Parents should talk to kids about bad food ads and good nutritional habits.

    And pediatricians should get active themselves when it comes to media policy, the policy statement says:

    Ask Congress, the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission to implement a ban on junk-food advertising during programing that is viewed predominantly by young children.

    Among the other things families can do to curb childhood obesity: eat meals together more regularly and make sure everyone gets enough sleep.

    Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Scott Hensley edits stories about health, biomedical research and pharmaceuticals for NPR's Science desk. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he has led the desk's reporting on the development of vaccines against the coronavirus.