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Study: TV, computers affect kids' sleep, diet

June 27, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics took a strong stance on how much television and computer time a child should get. A new report finds not only does too much screen time interfere with sleep, it has a big influence on what your child eats.

Researchers are looking for reasons why the number of obese children continues to grow. Some pediatric specialists feel one of the biggest culprits is right in our living rooms. The findings suggest too much screen time leads to many unhealthy behaviors, including problems with sleep.

Previous studies have shown exposure to electronic media can keep kids from a good night's sleep, but how much is too much? Researchers found that kids between the ages of 3 and 5 were exposed to an average of 73 minutes of TV, video games or DVD-watching every day.

The report finds viewing violent content during the day is linked to sleeping problems, and those with TVs in their rooms got even more exposure.

"For many, many years we have known that children who have TVs in their room do not do as well in school as those children that don't have TVs in their room," said Dr. Marsha Gerro, a pediatrician at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center.

Pediatricians recommend parents shut off electronic media at 7 p.m. to help kids get a better night's sleep.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released a new statement saying screen time also plays a big role in childhood obesity.

"Any time a child is sitting down in front of a computer or in front of video games or even text-messaging on the phone, they're not out there playing," said Gerro.

According to the study in the journal Pediatrics, American kids will watch between 5,000 to 10,000 food commercials per year, mostly for junk food and fast food.

"I think it's very influential. And the children know the names of the cereals that have a lot of sugar in them. They want the frosted flakes," said Gerro.

Gerro says the best way to get kids away from all the electronic media is for parents to jump in.

"Go out there, go for a walk after dinner, and skip dessert, go for a walk," said Gerro.

Gerro also recommends arranging exercise play dates at parks or skating rinks.

The study authors suggest parents reduce kids' evening media access and violent content in general. And they advise removing TVs and other media devices from children's bedrooms.

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