First person: An Austin dad limits screen time to combat childhood obesity

Excessive screen time is linked to childhood obesity. And what’s one of the very biggest predictors of kids’ screen time? Their parents’ habits.

According to analysis of a survey detailed in the August issue of Pediatrics (and published online on July 15), one parental hour in front of the TV translates into 23 extra minutes for kids. “Parent television time is associated with child television time and had a stronger relationship to child time than access to television in the home or the child’s bedroom, as well as parental rules about television viewing and co-viewing,” notes the journal. The findings were relevant for children of all ages.

Parental behaviors impact childhood obesity rates

The take away for parents couldn’t be more obvious: We have a huge role in modeling healthy behaviors to counteract the many environmental factors that contribute to childhood obesity. David, a dad from Austin, has long been concerned about finding ways to ensure his son Jesse stays healthy. But he doesn’t do it by laying down the law. He makes sure he and his son are out in the world, being active, having fun and staying away from screens.

David’s story

You won’t see me sitting around doing nothing or watching TV all day, so you won’t see Jesse doing that either. Baseball is our connection. It’s Jesse’s favorite sport, so he plays in the fall and in the spring. I’m papa and I’m coach. It’s something we can do together and something that keeps him from just sitting and watching TV.

When baseball season is over, we do workouts every morning. Our workouts vary. We do a full-body workout with light weights and calisthenics, and then we play ball. We practice correct posture with weights that aren’t too heavy for a growing kid. I’ve studied the right way to lift, and I’ve tried to teach that to Jesse. Everything I’ve read says to build muscle tone by keeping the muscle growing at a nice, easy pace. I don’t want him to lift weights that are too heavy and hurt himself.

I really try to find ways to add more exercise to many of the activities we do together. When we play basketball, I will sometimes let Jesse rebound his own balls because he gets more exercise if he goes and gets them instead of me waiting to throw the ball back to him. Or sometimes I’ll take him one-on-one. When he isn’t in school, we’d go walk around museums or take hikes. We used to hike all the way around the lake in downtown Austin.

A few years ago, we challenged ourselves to walk a total of 100 miles.  Each morning we’d do light calisthenics then walk or run. We did the mile loop around our neighborhood and kept track until we reached a total of 100 miles. It was great because we both felt a sense of accomplishment and it made doing our daily exercise a little more fun.

David’s tips for staying away from screens

  • Make exercise part of your daily routine.  Set a specific time to be physically active each day.
  • Exercise and play with your kids instead of just telling them to go play alone.
  • Drink plenty of water while being active.
  • Parents should limit their own screen time if they expect their kids to do the same.
  • Do activities that are fun for you and your kids so they aren’t tempted to be entertained by TVs, computers or electronics.

Hear more of David’s story. To read about David and other families who’ve adopted healthy habits to combat childhood obesity in their own homes visit, and order or download your free copies of A Year of Being Well: Messages from Families on Living Healthier Lives.