Can TV Cure What TV Causes?

By Andrew Borkowski on May 07, 2007
There's one great thing about fat - you can measure it. You can weight it. You can gauge the folds gathering around a child's middle, and you can make a direct connection between childhood obesity and the amount of time a child spends watching TV. That's why the Battle of the Boob Tube has become the Battle of the Bulge. While the debate over the effect of cartoon violence or adult content on young minds is clouded by mitigating factors, it's hard to argue with the readout on a weight scale.

    According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, one in four Canadian kids between the ages of seven and 12 is obese. The instance of obesity among Canadian boys doubled since the early 1980s and it increased
by almost 60 percent among girls. American studies for the National Health Survey report higher body mass indexes for kids watching four hours of television per day compared to those who watch two hours or less.

    Purveyors of kids television are answering the dire news with programs that vow to get kids off the couch and start movin and groovin. U.S. kids channel, Nickelodeon, sponsors an annual Worldwide Day of Play during which it goes off the air for three hours to encourage kids to be more active. In Canada, shows such as The Doodlebops, Roll Play, and 4Square aim to get kids on their feet in front of the screen. YTV has introduced its viewers to Coach Callous, a comical gym-teacher-from-hell character who exhorts kids to "get your rear in gear" on spots promoting fitness through membership in the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada.

    The gestures are welcome, but they don't alter the fact that TV viewing is still a sedentary activity. Determining the effectiveness of kiddie fitness shows is just as dodgy a business as linking bully behaviour to violent programs. TV can deliver the message, but it's us parents who have to make the rules that drive the message home.


Establish Healthy Viewing
Kids form their habits around television early. It's easier to establish ground rules with toddlers than it is to change established patterns when health problems appear later in childhood. Here are some highlights from the Canadian Paediatric Societys guidelines for healthy viewing:
  • Limit daily television watching to one hour or less for preschoolers and two hours or less for early school-aged children.
  • Don't use the television as a babysitter or allow your child to have a television in his or her bedroom.
  • Don't use the television as background. Turn it off during meals and when visitors arrive.
  • Set a good example. Active, healthy parents tend to have active, healthy kids.
  • Explain your TV rules to caregivers such as nannies, babysitters and grandparents.
Check It Out
The Doodlebops, CBC, 10:30 a.m. ET, weekdays:
This preschool series about a freakishly peppy rock band is about more than fitness. It uses a musical group as the setting to explore interpersonal relationships as kids get ready to start school. Inciting kids to dance, stretch and sing is a big part of the proceedings, and when fitness and physical well-being is the theme of the day, nobody sells it like the Doodlebops.

PE-TV, Discovery Kids, 10:30 a.m., 9:30 p.m. ET , Wednesdays:
The thrust of PE-TV is to show kids old enough say plyometrics how to have a happy and healthy lifestyle through regular exercise and proper nutrition. Four teen hosts visit with celebrity sports guests who dispense cool advice on how to improve your game.

4Square, Treehouse, 2:30 p.m. ET , weekdays:
Captain Hup and his team from Canadian Dance troupe Corpus lead the movement portion of this show which also devotes segments to participatory singing, rhythm and poetry.

For more suggestions, visit www.caringforkids.cps.ca

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