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Reducing Kids' TV Time: What Works?

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 5, 2012 -- Counseling parents on the health risks of too much TV time for their toddlers doesn't seem to help break the TV habit.

Researchers thought that educating parents about the dangers of excess screen time, with suggestions on how to reduce it, would work.

But in a new study, it didn't, although the counseling did lead to another important behavior change.

"We did find we could reduce the number of meals eaten in front of the screen," says researcher Catherine S. Birken, MD. Birken is a pediatrician at the Hospital for Sick Children and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto.

"That's important, because some research is showing the relationship between screen time and obesity is strongly mediated by what you eat while watching TV," she says.

The study results ''may be depressing but it's not surprising," says Dimitri Christakis, MD, MPH, director of the Center of Child Health, Behavior, and Development at Seattle Children's Hospital Research Institute. He reviewed the study findings for WebMD.

"The majority of American parents already feel bad or guilty about the amount of TV their kids are watching, but they aren't doing anything about it," he says.

The study is published in Pediatrics.

Too Much Screen Time: What's the Problem?

The researchers define screen time as time spent watching TV, videos, and DVDs, and also playing video or computer games. Too much screen time is linked with obesity, delayed language development, aggressive behavior, and other problems, the researchers note.

Screen times have risen in recent years. The average preschooler now gets about four hours a day, according to a recent study by Christakis.

The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly discourages television viewing for children ages 2 or younger. For older children, it advises no more than one to two hours a day of educational, nonviolent programs.

Reducing Screen Time: Study Details

Birken's team decided to test whether counseling parents of 3-year-olds who came to a pediatric practice in Toronto could help them reduce their kids' screen time.

They randomly assigned 160 children and their parents to a counseling group or a comparison group.

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