Public Health: Childhood Obesity and Screen Time

I am currently pursing a Masters of Public Health in Health Behavior and Health promotion (…it’s a mouth full I know). So I want to do weekly posts about public health topics to spread the word about certain health phenomenon present both within the U.S. and the world.

Did you read my introduction to public health?


Last quarter I wrote a paper on childhood obesity and the correlation with screen time. Screen time is basically any sort of television/game device/computer/etc that we encounter on a daily basis. Think about how much time we spend on our phones these days!

Childhood obesity is hot topic in the press today. But how much have you head about the relationship between screen time and obesity?

Here are a few facts that really stand out to me:

  • U.S. children are exposed to more “screen time” on electronics such as televisions, video games, computers, or other devices in a typical day than adults do within an 8:00AM- 5:00PM workday (Rideout, Foehr, & Roberts 2010).
  • Childhood obesity is often linked with adulthood obesity.  An obese child between the ages of 3-6 years old has a 52% chance of being obese as an adult; however, a non-obese child of the same age has a 12% chance of being obese as an adult (Whitaker, Wright, Pepe, Seidel, & Dietz 1997).
  • Each additional hour of television (above the recommended two hours) viewed by a child increased their occurrence of obesity by 2%  (Dietz  & Gortmaker 1985).
  • In the United States there are more televisions than toilets  (Dimitri & Zimmerman 2006).


So how can we decrease childhood obesity when screen time is such a prevalent pastime in America and the world??

This is the question that many public health professionals wrestle with. Do we use fear appeals like this Georgia childhood obesity campaign?


I don’t know about you but I had a gut wrenching reaction to the poster above. There is a fine line between decreasing childhood obesity and promoting disordered body images. Regardless of the weight of this little child… she is still a little girl.

Other ideas for targeting the childhood obesity crisis–

What about focusing on energy balance? Perhaps promote that it is critical to not consume more calories than you burn?


Or we could focus on one particular aspect of obesity– physical activity or nutrition? But how can you determine which one is more important?


At the end of the day we are left with many more questions than answers, which is a very difficult place to be in.


What are your thoughts on the child obesity crisis? How do you think we can overcome this pandemic?


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