Tag Archives: screen time

Staying healthy when going back to school, part 2

Last week I wrote about how to make returning to school healthier for children and families. The focus was on preventing the spread of COVID through vaccinations and mask use. Unfortunately, schools in our community cannot require children and teachers to wear masks and be vaccinated when eligible, so many schools are already seeing outbreaks leading to quarantines, closure of some schools, and some serious illnesses and deaths. Keeping children and families safe from COVID remains the top priority when it comes to making this school year a healthy one.

But there is more we all should do to stay healthy this year.  Here are a few suggestions to improve the health and wellbeing of our children and families.

 Make sure everyone in the family is active every day. Physical activity is critical for good health for everyone. Importantly, it can improve your immune system, helping you fight viruses of all kinds. Beyond that, being active can help you perform better at work and school and make it easier to do things you enjoy in your leisure time. Adults should be active for a minimum of 30 minutes per day. Everything from taking the dog for a walk to a fitness class at the gym counts. For children, the goal is 60 minutes per day through PE class, sports, and play. As a bonus, you can do at least some of the activity together to make activity a family event!

Make healthy eating a family project. There is a lot of confusion about what makes a healthy diet, but there are a few guidelines almost everyone agrees on. First, eat more fruits and vegetables. At a minimum, eat at least 5 servings each day, but try for twice that. Second, limit added sugars and salt. This is tricky since salt, sugar, and other sweeteners are added to most processed foods. Eating too much sugar is known to contribute to obesity, heart disease, and some cancers, so this is among the smartest nutrition moves you can make. Salt, by itself, isn’t necessarily harmful, but less salt almost always means less processed food and more “real” food. Finally, be mindful of portion sizes. Super-sized servings and second (and third) helpings are the primary reason why people gain weight over time.

Plan to eat at least one meal together each day. Most experts agree that family dinners are important for promoting good communication and healthy eating habits. Given that our days are busy with work, school, and other activities, eating dinner together every night is unrealistic for many families. So, start with planning at least one family dinner at home each week. This is also a good opportunity to teach children about food and cooking, so it is even better if you prepare the meal together.

Make getting enough sleep a priority. Many American adults and children don’t get enough sleep. Many American adults and children don’t get enough sleep. Lack of sleep can affect children’s growth, development, and learning.  It can also have an impact on an adult’s productivity at work. The effect of chronic stress on health is well known and we should recognize a lack of sleep as a form of stress. A good goal for adults is 7–9 hours of sleep each night. School-aged children need 8–12 hours, with younger kids requiring more. As difficult as it may be, earlier bedtimes can benefit everyone in the family. Limiting screen time (TV, computer, tablet) before bed can help improve sleep, too.

Obviously, these ideas are easier read than done, especially for busy families. But moving more, eating better, and getting more sleep—especially if it is done together—can help your family enjoy a happier and healthier year.

The kindergarten guide to health.

I often get the opportunity to speak about exercise, nutrition, and health. Sometimes the message is tailored to a specific audience. Other times I have the challenge of providing information that would be relevant for everyone, from students in preschool to their parents and grandparents. It turns out that the advice I would give the youngest children applies to everyone. My Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week includes four tips that are appropriate for all ages.

https://flic.kr/p/58nn9a


Eat a rainbow

Of fruits and vegetables, of course. You have probably heard that you should eat five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. In truth, you should get about twice that. Fruits and vegetables contain essential vitamins and minerals and are a good source of fiber. It turns out that dark and brightly-colored fruits and vegetables are rich in these essential nutrients. For example, even though spinach and iceberg lettuce have about the same number of calories, spinach contains significantly higher levels of iron and potassium. Red and orange fruits and vegetables such as cantaloupe are high in beta-carotene, an antioxidant vitamin linked to a lower risk of heart disease and cancer. Eating a variety of colors will make sure you get all of the essential vitamins and minerals and make meals and snacks more interesting.

Play every day

According to the U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines, children should get 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day, with an emphasis on vigorous activity. While this recommendation can be met through sports, there are benefits to unstructured play, especially in younger children. The important thing is that kids have opportunities to be active at school and at home. Like children, adults should be active every day, preferably doing something we enjoy. Since adults don’t spend time running around playgrounds, we get much of our activity through exercise, but the benefits are the same. Regular activity is essential for maintaining a healthy body weight, improving strength and fitness, and preventing disease in adults and children.

Eat breakfast

Children who eat breakfast every day perform better in class and on standardized tests, have fewer absences, and are less likely to be overweight. A good breakfast can improve memory, attention, and alertness in kids and adults. Eating breakfast is also associated with healthier choices for meals and snacks throughout the day. This is important for losing and maintaining weight. In fact, 80% of people who have successfully lost weight and kept it off report eating breakfast every day. Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day!

Don’t spend too much time watching TV

Or playing video games, or in front of the computer. A typical child spends almost as much time each week in front of a screen as they do in school! This is a major contributor to childhood obesity for two reasons. First, what we now call “screen time” is mostly sedentary, replacing opportunities for activity. Second, television viewing exposes kids to advertisements which promote eating foods that are high in sugar, fat, and calories. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a maximum of two hours of TV time per day. Kids who limit their screen time also get more sleep and do better in school. By the way, these same problems apply to adults, too. So do the benefits of reducing screen time.

As I write this I am reminded of the essay “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” by Robert Fulghum, which recounts simple lessons we learned as children that are relevant at all ages. I think the idea that the simplest lessons apply to everyone holds true for exercise, nutrition, and health information, too.


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
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Aside

We have known for a long time that kids who spent more time watching TV were more likely to be obese. This was thought to be due to the fact that sedentary time in front of the television replaced physical … Continue reading