Teen idle

Here’s a shocking revelation for you. Teens that spend a lot of time sitting around watching TV or playing computer games are more likely to stuff junk food in their mouths.

A recent study of more than 2,000 European kids revealed that adolescent boys are more likely to down sugary drinks if they clock in more than four hours of screen time every day. They were also less likely to eat healthy foods on any given weekday.

And teen girls with the same media habits didn’t fare any better. They were also more likely to fill up on junk food, drink sweetened beverages, and avoid healthy food than their less sedentary peers. (That is, those kids who averaged below 2 hours of screen time per day.)

Obviously, there’s nothing at all surprising about these results. But I’ll admit to being a little astounded by the circumstances that led to them.

For starters, I want to know why parents are allowing their children to spend that much time in front of a screen.

Yes, it’s amazingly unhealthy from a “mindless eating” perspective. But what about vision health? Posture? Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Not to mention the lack of social interaction. I’m sorry, but instant messaging just isn’t the same as being outside and face to face with the person you’ve been so busy IMing or BBMing.

And may I ask who is buying the groceries?

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that your child has to spend that much time in front of a screen for “good” reasons. The responsibility still falls on the parent to provide a healthy home environment–which includes all snacks, foods, drinks, and meals served there.

We must be mindful of this. Because the problem really is that serious.

The example that parents set has a strong and lasting influence on the development of health-related behaviors–for better or worse. And I’m betting that the parents of these sedentary teenage snackers engage in plenty of unhealthy behaviors themselves.

So I’d like to challenge all of the parents out there to blaze a different trail.

Go out and exercise with your kid. I bet if you exercised, your kids would, too. And they would grow up incorporating physical activity into their everyday lives without a second thought.

And while you’re at it, take an inventory of your kitchen and toss out the processed, sugar-packed garbage. Simply having those snacks in your home sets your child up for trouble.

Think about it. When does most snacking happen? After school, before parents get home from work.

Take the temptation away, and you could be saving your kids from a lifetime of obesity and poor nutrition. It’s just plain common sense.

Making a change doesn’t have to be complicated. All we have to do is move more and make better choices in the foods we buy and consume.

This effort will have an effect not only on our own health, but on our children’s, too. And good health is the most valuable legacy you can leave for your kids. Simple as that.

“Food Consumption and Screen-Based Sedentary Behaviors in European Adolescents: The HELENA Study” Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012;166(11):1010-1020. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2012.646.