Degree column: Screen time contributes to weight gain

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 1, 2011

By Toi Degree
For the Salisbury Post
This week we are going to talk about taming the tube. Are you mindful that screen time can have an impact on your weight?
Take a minute to think about the past few evenings after dinner. What did you do with your time?
Many of us spend a lot of our free time in front of a TV or computer screen. “Screen time,” as we call it, is increasing in all age groups across the country and we spend more and more time watching television, DVDs and using the computer.
Yet, we often hear ourselves saying, “I don’t have time to eat right or exercise.” The problem may not be that we don’t have time but that we are spending our time doing other things — like sitting in front of a screen.
So just how much are we watching? According to a studies conducted by Nielsen Media Research and the Digital Journal:
• On average, households in the U.S. have the TV on over eight hours a day.
• Digital Journal found that adults spend more time with their computers at home than they do with their spouse or partner.
Do you remember a time when we were limited to three or four channels on TV? If so, you are able to see how over the years there has been a huge increase in viewing options, with hundreds of channels, video, DVD and pay-per-view. These days you could spend hours just surfing and never really watch a show.
We now have MP3 players, laptop computers, DVRs, etc. Most homes have computers with high-speed Internet access.
So what am I trying to say? More television watching contributes to a higher body weight.
Adults who watch more than two hours of TV a day tend to weigh more than people who watch less than that.
Children who watch more television have higher body weights than children who watch less.
Why? When we watch TV, we’re inactive and only burning as many calories as we do when we’re sleeping. This also applies to sitting in front of a computer screen or playing video games.
Plus, we’re watching commercials. A one-hour show on commercial television has about 20 minutes of commercials. A half-hour show is only about 18 minutes of actual programming — the rest is commercials.
So watching two hours of TV a day, every day of the week, you will watch 90 minutes of ads, mostly for foods and drinks high in sugar, fat and calories.
The foods we over-eat — sugary drinks, sweet and salty snacks and fast food — are the very foods that we see advertised over and over again.
Another reason TV watching leads to weight gain is that we often snack on higher-calorie foods such as chips, nuts or ice cream while watching. Eating while watching TV is not mindful eating. We are distracted from how much we are eating and from paying attention to how full we are.
One study found that each hour of TV watching results in eating 50 to almost 140 extra calories. If you watch two hours of TV a day, and eat even a light snack (50 calories’ worth), you could gain almost 4 pounds in one year if all else remains the same.
So what can we do to decrease TV watching?
• Get the TV and computers out of the bedroom. A television in the bedroom is not good for adults or children.
• Plan how much TV you and your family are going to watch. Set clear limits and be a good TV role model.For example, no TV on school nights, no TV after 7 p.m., etc.
• Make lists of activities you want to do instead of watching T, and involve the children. Come up with activities you can do in different seasons or that could become a family ritual, such as walking after dinner twice a week.
• Don’t keep the TV on all the time. Turn the TV on only when there is a specific show you want to watch. Turn the TV on for that show and turn it off when the show is over.
• Use commercial breaks to get some activity — jumping jacks, crunches or a game of balloon volleyball over the back of the sofa with the kids.In a one-hour show, you can get almost 20 minutes of activity if you just move during commercials.
Turn off the TV. Get up and get moving instead.
Have a good week and don’t forget your strategy for the week. Next time we will talk about planning ahead and packing healthy lunches to help you stick to your eating plan.
Contact Toi N. Degree at