Friday, October 23, 2009
It's not often that Peter and I come across a an exercise product that actually makes sense. The GoWear Fit Armband was one, and pedometers are another. In contrast to the many gimmicks that we have reviewed in the past, these useful products tend to be simple, evidence-based, and easy to implement. Earlier this week I came across another product which I feel holds quite a bit of promise, and it is enthusiastically titled TimesUpKidz!.
TimesUpKidz! is a program which allows you to limit how much time individual users can spend on any computer. It is aimed at limiting time for children, but I see no reason why it couldn't be used for adults as well. You decide how much time a person is allowed to use the computer on any given day of the week, and during what hours. Further, you can set mandatory breaks, such as a 15 minute break following every continuous hour of computer time. Once the time limit is exceeded, users are locked out of the computer for a specifically designated period of time.
Although I have not tried this product (nor do I have any children on whom to test it), it is appealing to me for several reasons. It is simple, cheap ($29.95 USD) and likely to have a very measurable impact on screen time. This last point is key, given the strong relationship between screen time and health risk in children.
For example, Drs Amy Mark and Ian Janssen examined the relationship between screen time and the metabolic syndrome in a representative sample of 1800 American adolescents in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Screen time was measured by self-report questionnaire, and included all time spent watching TV, playing video games, and using a computer. The metabolic syndrome (a cluster of risk factors which predisposes to both diabetes and cardiovascular disease) was defined as having 3 or more of the following: high triglycerides, high fasting glucose, high waist circumference, high blood pressure and low HDL cholesterol.
What did they find? The risk of having the metabolic syndrome increased with screen time, such that individuals with the highest amount of screen time (> 5 hours/day) had three times the risk of those with less than one hour/day. Additionally, eight percent of the youth who accumulated greater than 5 hours/day of screen time had the metabolic syndrome - that's huge! Remember, these are adolescents - they should not have 3 or more risk factors for serious chronic diseases like diabetes or cardiovascular disease! And screen time was self-reported, which tends to under-estimate negative behaviors like screen-time, so it is possible that the true relationship between screen time and metabolic risk may be even stronger than the one observed in this study.
There is now a wealth of evidence suggesting that screen time is something that we
should need to limit for everyone, but especially for children and youth. So in the absence of hard data, I am willing to go out on a limb and say that TimesUpKidz! and similar programs like Computer Time that make it impossible for children to spend too much time in front of at least one screen could be quite useful in reducing screen time, and time spent in sedentary behaviors. Now of course children could fill their time with other sedentary activities, but limiting one opportunity for screen time is better than nothing at all. I haven't used any of these programs myself, so if you have, feel free to share your experiences in the comments section below. For more information on TimesUpKidz!, please visit their website here.
Have a great weekend,
Mark, A., & Janssen, I. (2008). Relationship between screen time and metabolic syndrome in adolescents Journal of Public Health, 30 (2), 153-160 DOI: 10.1093/pubmed/fdn022
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