With the beginning of school term and a return to routine for families parents are being encouraged to reduce the amount of screen time their children are having.
Research has found that too much screen time impacts on children’s physical activity, diet and sleep. Children who spend more time on screens tend to get less sleep, are more likely to have a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) and eat more unhealthy drinks and snacks.The START campaign, by safefood, the Public Health Agency and Department of Health, which focuses on taking a realistic and practical approach to encourage a healthy weight for children and young people, has revealed that children aged under 2 spent on average approx. 52 minutes every day on screens, rising to over 1 hour at weekends.
Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition, safefood: “While parents are aware of the dangers of everyday habits like too many ‘treat foods’ or too many sugary drinks, they may be unaware of how excessive screen time is impacting on our children’s health. It’s clearly linked with how active we are, the food we eat and the amount of sleep we get. Screen time can displace physical activity and is associated with a pattern of unhealthy snacking. It also increases our children’s exposure to the marketing of unhealthy foods. We need to get this balance right and parents can make a start by reducing their own screen time.”
For children aged 2-5, the weekday average was approx. 1 hour 49 mins and 2 hours 13 mins at weekends. For over 5s, the weekday average was almost two hours rising to more than 3 hours at the weekends.
Caroline Bloomfield, Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement Senior Manager at the Public Health Agency said: “Ideally, under 2s should have no screen time while under 5s should have no more than an hour a day. For older children, it’s important to agree set limits that suit your family and to stick to them. Screen time is such a part now of daily life that trying to cut down on it might seem challenging. Children love to copy what others do so if they see Mum or Dad on the smartphone, chances are they’ll want to do the same. Having wind-down time with no screens before bedtime and enjoying more screen free meals together are two good places where parents can make a start.”
The START campaign aims to provide practical tools and advice for parents, to help them set limits on screen time and to encourage the whole family to become more active. It is encouraging families to make a ‘play pact’ by committing as a family to pause for play and spend less time on their screens. This doesn’t have to be organised physical activity or sport and all movement counts.
For more information visit: www.makeastart.org It provides lots of simple ideas on getting active in and around the home and ways to make a positive, healthy start.
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