Obesity in Children: How Does the Digital Age Affect It?

The Bark Team | January 19, 2023 | Digital Wellbeing Mental Health

person standing on a scale

Between phones, laptops, and TV, it’s never been easier to be entertained and to connect in one place. Which is great, but it also means it’s never been easier not to move. Unsurprisingly this increasingly sedentary lifestyle means serious mental and physical consequences. One of the most damaging effects—obesity in children—and it’s on the rise. Below, we’ll talk about what is childhood obesity, what causes it, and some simple steps you can take to limit your kid’s screen time and get them moving!

What is Childhood Obesity?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents in the United States has more than tripled since the 1970s. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) defines childhood obesity as a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same age and sex. While it's the standard measure, BMI in general has come under fire over recent years for being an inaccurate measure in some cases, as it doesn’t account for muscle mass and other differences. 

When it comes to childhood obesity, it might be best to turn toward other health markers instead. Taking stock of internal workings like cholesterol levels, blood pressure and blood sugar can help more clearly determine if your child might be at risk of serious health issues related to obesity like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic conditions. 

What Causes Childhood Obesity?

Technology and screens have become an integral part of our daily lives, and this is especially true for children. According to the Common Sense Census, a report on children's media use in the United States, children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend an average of 7 hours and 22 minutes per day consuming media. This includes watching television, playing video games, and using the internet and social media.

The amount of time that children spend on screens has been linked to an increased risk of obesity. One study found that children who spent more than 2 hours per day in front of a screen had a higher body mass index (BMI) compared to those who spent less time on screens. Another study found that children who watched more than 2 hours of television per day were more likely to be overweight or obese compared to those who watched less television.

There are several reasons why technology and screens may contribute to obesity in children. First, screens are often associated with sedentary behaviors, such as sitting and lying down. These behaviors can lead to a decrease in physical activity, which is an important factor in the development of obesity. Second, screen time is often accompanied by snacking, which can contribute to an increase in calorie intake. Finally, screens can be a distraction from other activities, such as outdoor play, which may further decrease physical activity.

How to Encourage Your Child to Live a Healthier Lifestyle

Given the role of technology and screens in the development of obesity in children, it is important to find ways to reduce the negative impact of these factors. Here are some strategies that can help:

  1. Limit screen time: One of the most effective strategies for reducing the impact of technology on obesity in children is to limit the amount of time they spend with their screens. The AAP recommends that children and adolescents should have no more than 2 hours of screen time per day. While this is a pretty big ask, it’s important to have an open and honest conversation with your child about decreasing screen time to a level where it works for both of you.
  2. Encourage physical activity: Another important strategy for addressing the impact of screens on obesity in children is to encourage physical activity. This can include activities such as sports, outdoor play, or simply going for a walk or bike ride.
  3. Promote healthy eating habits: In addition to reducing screen time and increasing physical activity, it is also important to promote healthy eating habits in children. This can include encouraging the consumption of fruits, vegetables, and other nutrient-dense foods and limiting the intake of sugary drinks and snacks.
  4. Involve the whole family: It is important to involve the whole family in efforts to address obesity in children. This can include setting limits on screen time and encouraging physical activity as a family, as well as promoting healthy eating habits.
  5. Seek support: If you are concerned about your child's health, it is important to seek support from a healthcare provider or a dietitian.

Manage Screen Time the Easy Way With Bark

Here at Bark, we don’t believe screen time is all or nothing, which is why we offer completely customizable schedules for each child. Our approach to screen time centers on the idea that different times of day call for different screen time rules. For example, when your kids are in school, you can block access to everything but educational sites. And at bedtime, you can allow apps to help them wind down for the evening. And because all kids deserve to blow off a little steam, you can designate free time hours just for play.

About Bark

Bark is a comprehensive online safety solution that empowers families to monitor content, manage screen time, and filter websites to help protect their kids online. Our mission is to give parents and guardians the tools they need to raise kids in the digital age.