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Active kids, healthy kids

Children are born into a world fuelled by technology and are spending much of their spare time in front of a screen, as the HBF Lunch & Play Report has discovered.

The Report revealed that, on a regular weekday, the average child in WA spends 1.7 hours (102 minutes) on screen time for entertainment purposes, while one in five (22%) spends two or more hours per day.

This compares to an average of 1.1 hours (69 minutes) per day spent looking at screens for educational purposes. While 22% spend more than two hours a day on screened devices for entertainment, only 12% spend the same amount for educational reasons.

Children - too much technology?

Use of electronic devices increases on weekend days, where the average child is glued to a screen for 3.02 hours (182 minutes) for entertainment purposes, and half (54%) are watching devices for more than two hours per day.

There’s no doubt that the more children move, the healthier they’ll be, so finding a balance between the inevitability of screen watching and the nature of physical activity is essential.

“Simply playing with your kids, wrestling and running after them makes it fun.”

Going offline and getting outside

Encouraging your children to reconnect with the real world and get active should be part and parcel of daily life. While team sports are a fantastic way to boost your child’s daily exercise requirements, simple activities such as walking the dog, throwing a frisbee or heading down to the local park to kick a ball around shouldn’t be underestimated.

With Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines recommending children aged five to 12 years get a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise daily, every little bit counts.

In fact, HBF’s Lunch and Play Report revealed that 73% of a child’s physical activity takes place outside of school hours, thanks to incidental exercise and non-organised sport.

“Simply playing with your kids, wrestling and running after them, makes it fun,” says HBF Fitness trainer and health consultant, Max Tamatoa. “It doesn’t have to be a particularly intense form of exercise, it’s more about movement, and finding a balance between being sedentary and active, and demonstrating the right fitness values.”

The lure of electronic devices means children are forgoing opportunities to exercise. The key? Reducing their screen time to increase their fitness.

From TVs and computers to gaming consoles and tablets, modern kids have no end of enticing sedentary activities to choose from. According to Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines, children need at least an hour of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity daily, yet only 19% are reaching that target (Australian Bureau of Statistics).

The HBF Lunch & Play Report revealed that 72% of parents manage their children’s screen time, but 58% believe the amount of screen time their child has could have a negative impact on their health. According to parents, the greatest impacts of screen time on their children are that their child does less physical activity (60%), has fewer social interactions (35%), has sleeping difficulties (25%) and has attention difficulties (22%).

Around 44% of parents are concerned about the amount of screen time their child has, though 42% believe they’re aware of all of their child’s screen time outside of the home. A further 36% are aware of some of their child’s screen time outside the home, while 21% admit to not knowing. Analysis also shows that parents of overweight or obese children are significantly more likely to be unaware of their child’s screen time outside the home.

“There’s no doubt kids’ usage of electronic devices is increasing all the time,” Tamatoa says. “Technology is here to stay and pop culture is a huge driver. Just look at Pokemon Go. The nature of that app is encouraging people to get out and move – which is a good thing – but kids are still glued to screens.”

The health impact for the future

According to the national guidelines, children aged five to 12 years should minimise the time they spend sitting, by limiting their use of electronic media for entertainment (e.g. television, seated electronic games) to no more than two hours a day. Lower levels of sedentary behaviour are associated with reduced health risks later in life.

“We are seeing an increase in health issues in kids today that we would never have associated with children 20 or 30 years ago, such as obesity. I have no doubt that increased screen time – which in turn, increases sedentary behaviour – is at least partly responsible,” says Tamatoa. “Encouraging kids to get involved in exercise from a young age helps to set up healthy habits for the rest of their lives.”

Easy entertainment ideas

There are simple ways of encouraging your kids to disconnect from their devices and the best way is to get involved. Andi Lew, mum and author of Wellness Loading: Disconnect to Reconnect, recommends prioritising screen-free entertainment.

“I have a bunch of other activities we can do instead of the iPad or TV, including helping me prepare kid-friendly recipes, crafts and home duties,” she says. “Turning to tech then becomes a last resort.”

Adds Tamatoa: “There are so many other things you can do – head to the park, take the dog for a walk – anything. It really is just about looking for opportunities to move and cutting screen time where you can. Don’t punish your kids for using electronic devices. They’re part and parcel of modern day life. It’s just a matter of finding a balance and demonstrating the right values.”

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