This is an especially pertinent question because April 23-29 is National Turn Off Your TV Week. Did you know by the time the average child graduates from high school they will have spent more time watching TV than in school? The average student spends 900 hours a year in school versus 1,030 hours per year in front of the TV.
These numbers paint a sobering picture given the percentage of children in this country who are overweight or obese. In 1964, 5 percent of American children were seriously overweight. By 2003 the U.S Department of Health and Human Services found that number had climbed to 15 percent. Childhood obesity is an epidemic in this country, according to nutritionists.
The Centers for Disease Control report childhood obesity is a leading factor in the unprecedented rise of Type II ("adult onset") diabetes among adolescents. Sedentary children also suffer later in life from other ailments including heart disease, chronic pain and hypertension as a result of being overweight or obese.
As a nutrition educator this is troubling news to me. Study after study has shown the root causes of childhood obesity stem from too many high-calorie foods (e.g. sodas and fast food) and too much inactivity (e.g. TV and computer time). If you feel your child may be headed into the Land of Overweight, take action now.
First, talk to your child (or children) about reducing the amount of time the family spends watching TV. Discuss Turn Off the TV Week and what that means (it means no TV watching for any member of the family, at any time, for any reason during the week), and explain why this is important. Have alternatives planned, as a family, and for your child, to occupy the time once reserved for TV watching.
For your child, get them up and moving outside riding their bike, participating in sports and games, walking the dog or just engaging in unstructured play time with other children. Contact the Wallowa County Extension Service office to find out what programs are available through 4-H for your child. With the warmer weather, go for a hike or plan this year's garden.
Remember, though, unplugging the TV doesn't mean the extra time can be spent in front of the computer. The idea is to replace sedentary activity with physical activities and time spent with the family. Quitting TV "cold turkey" takes effort and planning, but it can be done. Who knows? Maybe by the end of the week no one will notice there hasn't been any TV, and you'll wonder why you didn't get "unplugged" sooner.
Ann Bloom is the OSU Extension Nutrition Program assistant in Enterprise.