More and more children are overweight or obese. Some attribute this public health problem to the growing number of hours spent in front of the television or computer. Do you have trouble extricating your child from the couch? What if you made watching television a reward instead of a pastime?
Canadian researchers assessed whether this approach could help make our children more active. They randomly assigned 30 overweight children aged 8 to 12 to one of two groups: in the first group, children “earned” TV and videogame time by exercising, whereas in the second group, children were simply encouraged to exercise without restrictions to their viewing habits. The children in the first group wore a monitor that measured their activity levels, while the television set was equipped with a device that only worked if tokens were inserted. The children earned these tokens by exercising: the equivalent of walking at a moderate pace for an hour earned them an hour of TV.
After eight weeks, the children in the first group had increased their physical activity levels by 65% and were doing 10 extra minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise per day. The children in the second group had barely changed their exercise levels. Moreover, those in the first group were spending about 45 minutes a day in front of the TV, much less than the daily average of three hours from the beginning of the study.
The researchers also noted that the children in the first group did less snacking, which helped lower their overall fat and calorie intake. In other words, spending too much time in front of the television promotes weight gain not only because children are more sedentary, but also because they snack more.
By changing some household rules, we can succeed in getting our kids more active. Our television sets are perhaps not token-operated, but there are other ways to encourage children to make better choices. For example, we can tell children that they get 30 minutes of television per day and that they can choose the show they want to watch. Viewing time can also be made contingent on an hour of outdoor play.
Let’s also face it: the best example we can give our children comes from what we do as parents. How can we expect our children to go play outside if we never venture out ourselves? It’s still summer, the new television season hasn’t started yet, so go out and get some fresh air!