Switch(TM) -- active lifestyles from MediaWise(R) is the first childhood obesity prevention project to incorporate the amount of screen time component as a factor for the overall health of children. The eight-month pilot program was designed to enhance the lifestyle and fitness of more than 600 children in three elementary schools in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and two elementary schools in Lakeville, Minnesota.
"This study provides the most concrete evidence to date that excessive amounts of screen time vastly increase the risk of childhood obesity," said Dr. David Walsh, president and founder of the National Institute on Media and the Family. "Every parent needs to understand the link and take significant steps in turning off their child's television and computer."
After reviewing the data collected over eight months, the National Institute on Media and the Family found several key findings which solidify past research linking the amount of screen time to the bulging waistlines of children. But the research also found significant improvement in the most at risk children who took corrective measures to improve their health.
Screen Time and Obesity
Switch(TM) found that children who were obese consumed the highest amount of screen time at the beginning of the program. Screen time is correlated with and is a significant predictor of body mass index (BMI).
Several past studies have linked screen time and obesity, including one that found incidence of obesity increased by 6 percent for every additional hour of television watched each week. With the average child spending more than 44 hours per week in front of a screen, the incidence of obesity is quickly becoming a reality.
Switch(TM) Showed Real Improvement in Changing Children's Habits
After eight months of participating in the program, the children most at risk of being obese or overweight substantially improved their physical activity and eating habits. In fact, at the end of the program, the most obese children cut their screen time by 5 1/2 hours per week, and more than four out of 10 kids in Switch(TM) reported watching less television and spending less time playing video games.
By the end of the program, the correlation between obesity and screen time had been eliminated.
When it came to eating more fruits and vegetables, the children most at risk of being obese and overweight again showed substantial improvement over eight months. Those children increased their consumption of fruits and vegetables by three servings per week. Almost half of the children in Switch(TM) reported they ate more fresh fruits and 37 percent said they ate more vegetables.
Equally encouraging, 60 percent of children reported that they increased their physical activity. The children's pedometer data gathered during the project also showed increases.
"The results of this study are very encouraging; we now know when parents and kids are given the knowledge and tools necessary to change their viewing, eating and activity habits, they will," continued Dr. Walsh. "The best news is that the most significant improvement was in kids who were the most at risk of being overweight and were actively engaged in the program."
Too Much Screen Time. Too Much Child: National PSA to Raise Awareness on Kid Obesity
To educate the public about the dangers of excessive screen time and childhood obesity, the National Institute on Media and the Family unveiled its newest public service announcement.
The spot, titled "Ogre," opens with a large boy sitting on his couch playing a video game. The shots alternate back and forth between the boy and his TV screen, which shows his video game character furiously searching through different rooms on a quest to "Find the Golden Ogre." Later in the spot, movement is seen between the rolls on the boy's stomach as an animated ogre struggles to emerge.
After the ogre retreats within the folds of the boy's stomach, the screen changes to black and the graphic, "Too much screen time. Too much kid." appears on the screen. Viewers are then directed to the MediaWise Web site, http://www.media-obesity.org. On that site, additional childhood obesity statistics appear, along with links to the Institute and its Switch(TM) program, which offers communities a proven solution to combating the issue of childhood obesity.
The PSA is scheduled to air in more than 20 television markets across the country, including New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. The launch of the "Ogre" spot will also be supported by more than 13 million guaranteed online impressions. Among the sites which have agreed to run the MediaWise banners and drive traffic to the microsite are: AOL.com, BHG.com, BusinessWeek.com, CNN.com, CNNMoney.com, Forbes.com, FoxNews.com, Smartmoney.com, and USAtoday.com. The ad was produced by Martin|Williams Advertising.
Families and Communities Provided Spark to Improve Children's Health
Switch's exclusive integration of a classroom program and a community awareness strategy sets it apart from other studies performed only in the school setting. Switch's evidence-based research design delivered consistently reinforced messages throughout the duration of the project, which helped families make changes and sustain them.
Switch(TM) provided family tools and resources, such as ideas for healthy meals and snacks, active alternatives to screen time, and a system to make it easier for parents to tame the screens. The children kept a log called a Switch(TM) Tracker to track their screen time, diet and activity level. All of these resources helped children, and their families, to:
Switch what they Do(TM) ... Switch what they View(TM) ... Switch what they Chew(TM)
Switch(TM) was created by the National Institute on Media and the Family and is sponsored by Cargill, Medica Foundation, Fairview, and the Healthy and Active America Foundation. This unique project measured changes in behavior relating to fitness levels, nutritional choices and screen time usage of third- through fifth-graders over the course of eight months. Switch(TM) was designed to raise awareness and educate families on the need to be proactive when it comes to making healthy choices about health habits. Switch(TM) promotes increased physical activity, sound nutritional choices, and moderated screen time in an effort to enhance the overall health of children. Additional information can be found at http://www.mediawise.org/switch.
About the National Institute on Media and the Family
The National Institute on Media and the Family is the world's leading and most respected research-based organization on the positive and harmful effects of media on children and youth. The National Institute on Media and the Family is an independent non-partisan, non-sectarian, nonprofit organization. The Institute's mission is to maximize the benefits and minimize the harm mass media have on children through research and education.
National Institute on Media and the Family