Screens and Technology
Televisions, computers, smart phones, and video games are among the many "screens" that make entertainment and information accessible at any time of day. They also make it easier to snack and sit more than we realize. Considering screen time behaviors is important in thinking about balancing calories eaten and physical activity.

Defining Screen Time

Screen time is the amount of time spent watching television or movies; playing video or computer games; surfing the internet; working on a computer; or using mobile devices to play games/watch videos, etc.

Screens are everywhere – TVs in the bedroom; built-in DVD players in cars; and smart phones in pockets.

How Much are Americans Getting?

Young Children:

  • Currently, 90% of parents report their children under 2 years watch television, DVDs, or videos. By the time they are 3, almost 1/3 of children have a television in their bedroom110.
  • On average, children younger than 2 years watch televised programs 1 to 2 hours/day110.

Youth and Adolescents:

  • Today, children ages 8-18 report spending over 7.5 hours a day watching TV and movies, playing video games, and using computers – not including homework-related use17.
  • Internet and mobile devices have provided new ways to watch television programs, leading to increases in television viewing and overall screen time17.
Screen Time

Adults:

  • Time use studies show that adults spend at least half of their leisure time watching television13.

How Much is Too Much?

Young children:

  • Experts discourage children under the age of 2 from using television programs, pre-recorded videos, web-based programming, and DVDs110.
  • Although 75% of the top-selling videos for young children claim to be educational, research does not support educational benefits for children under two110.
  • Television viewing before the age of 3 has been linked to cognitive delays, difficulty paying attention, and problems with sleep110.
  • Children under 5 who spend time watching TV spend less time interacting with parents and siblings, and less time in free play199.

Youth and Adolescents:

  • Screen time (not including internet research for homework) should not exceed 2 hours of high-quality programming a day200.
  • Television viewing has been tied to spending less time doing homework199.
  • 21% of 8-18 year olds are exposed to TVs, computers, video games, cell phones, and movies for more than 16 hours a day are more likely to report getting lower grades17.

How is Screen Time Related to Health?

Research in children and adults consistently shows that screen time is directly linked to increased overweight and obesity106,201. The strongest link is with television viewing, but that may change as more time is spent in front of an increasing variety of screens. Scientists are still working to understand how newer screen technologies relate to health.

In addition, the light from TV and computer screens in the bedroom can disturb sleep and the natural rhythm of metabolic hormones, which are necessary for growth and development. Disrupted or insufficient sleep can increase the risk for overweight and obesity and have other health and safety effects in people of all ages.

Inactivity:

  • Children and adults who spend more time watching television are also at risk for being physically inactive39.
  • Active video games, like Wii Sports and Dance Dance Revolution, burn more calories and boost heart rates more than traditional video games, but fall short of the activity levels of dancing, soccer, and other physical activities109,202. They are not a great substitute, but a good addition.

Snacking:

  • When watching TV or movies, you tend to pay less attention to what you are eating. This makes it easier to eat more than you realize202.
  • The types of foods people munch while watching TV are often higher calorie foods, including fast food and sugary drinks9,107.

Marketing:

  • On television alone, the average U.S. child sees 12-21 food commercials every day, totaling 4,400-7,600 ads a year114.
  • Nearly 98% of food ads seen by children 2-11, and 90% of food ads seen by teens, are for items that are high in fat, sugar, and of low nutritional quality115.
  • Children exposed to more screen time make more requests for advertised products, including food and drinks108.

Family Meals:

  • Conversations around the dinner table and interactions with parents are an important component of family meals150,203. When children watch TV, they interact less with parents and siblings199. 64% of children 8-18 say the TV is usually on in their household during meals17. The positive effects of family meals are lower when the television is turned off41,204.
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