Watch the ‘screen time’ even for active children

By Costa Maragos Posted: May 12, 2015 11:00 a.m.

Dr. Katya Herman at her standing desk in her office at the U of R.
Dr. Katya Herman at her standing desk in her office at the U of R. Photo: Rae Graham – U of R Photography.

Excessive “screen time” lessens the benefits of daily physical activity.    

The University of Regina’s Dr. Katya Herman has been studying the connections between physical activity, sedentary behaviour and health outcomes. Her latest study of children was published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health.
It is now known that someone can be classified both as highly physically active, and at the same time highly sedentary – these are not simply opposites. Sedentary behaviour refers to low-energy activities while awake in a sitting or lying position, such as watching TV or using the computer.
“In the past we've assumed that a child who is active, in sports for example, has their ticket to good health and doesn’t have to worry about sitting around watching TV or playing video games. The same goes for adults,” says Dr. Herman who is Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies.  

“We do our physical activity, whether we go to the gym or play a sport or go for a brisk walk, and we think we’re home free. Perhaps we even think we’ve ‘earned’ our sitting time.”

It’s that sitting time that’s the cause for concern, says Dr. Herman who completed her PhD at Queen’s University and her Post Doctoral research at McGill.

Your child might be active but how much time is he or she spending in front of the TV, computer screen or that handheld device?

Over 500 children participated in the Quebec Adipose and Lifestyle Investigation in Youth (QUALITY) study. which was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. The children, aged 8 to 10, had their physical activity and sedentary behaviour levels measured and compared to their weight status. As you would expect, children who were both active and non-sedentary had the lowest levels of obesity. The results also predictably showed that children classified as both inactive and sedentary had the highest levels of obesity.

Most interesting however, are the kids that are at the same time classified as active and sedentary due to excessive “screen time.” They showed similar obesity levels as children who were inactive but non-sedentary, that is spending their time in light intensity activity rather than sitting around.

“High levels of sedentary behaviour in active children may counteract some of the health benefits of that physical activity,” says Dr. Herman.

The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend 60 minutes a day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity for children (150 minutes a week for adults). The Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines recommend that children have no more than two hours a day of screen time. On average, children in Canada spend more than eight hours a day sedentary.

“While it’s important for children to strive for 60 minutes of physical activity, that’s such a small portion of the 24 hour day. We’re realizing that the other 23 hours matter,” says Dr. Herman. “The results of this study showing an association with obesity in children are a concern, as obesity tracks quite strongly from childhood to adulthood. So recognizing the distinction between physical activity and sedentary behaviour and instilling good habits early in life becomes crucially important in improving our health as a society.”

So what are parents to do? Cutting back on the screen time would be a good start while also encouraging children to spend more time outdoors playing and moving about.

Over the last decade the University of Regina has led all other medium-sized universities in “research impact” according to Thomson-Reuters and Web of Science data. This means that the work of our professors was cited more than any other University. Research Impact is a real area of strength at the University – and one that we will continue to focus on as it is one of the three priority areas within our new Strategic Plan.