Doctors and parents know that exercise is an important in the management of childhood obesity, but motivating kids to be physically active can be difficult. What works when it comes to getting them moving? Encouraging kids to earn their TV time with physical activity actually reduces sedentary time overall, say researchers from the University of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada.
Thirty overweight or obese 8- to 12-year-old kids were randomly assigned to one of two groups. Half earned tokens good for 1 hour of TV time for about every hour they spent exercising. They weren't allowed to watch TV unless they had earned the tokens, and the families were given devices that restricted the TV's use without tokens. Researchers encouraged the kids in the other group to exercise, but their TV privileges weren't tied to the amount of time spent in physical activity. Throughout the 8-week study, the kids wore activity monitors to measure the amount of time they spent exercising. All were measured and weighed; they also recorded foods and beverages they consumed over a 3-day period before and after the study.
The promise of TV time was a powerful motivator to exercise. Kids in the token group increased their activity levels by 65% from the beginning to the end of the study. In addition, they also decreased sedentary TV viewing time by 72%, down to only 45 minutes a day from about 2 hours per day. Compared with the kids who only wore the activity monitors, those who earned tokens had more positive changes in body composition, ate less dietary fat, and got fewer calories from snack foods.
What This Means to You. Physical inactivity and increasing time spent in sedentary behaviors, such as TV viewing, is contributing to the rise in childhood obesity. Encouraging all kids to be physically active and limiting time spent in front of a screen is good strategy for all families. Encouraging overweight kids to be more active can be a challenge, but this type of motivational program is easy to implement. Determine how much exercise time is needed for each half hour of TV time, and limit your child's tube time to the number of tokens or coupons earned. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about your child's weight or the amount of time your child spends watching TV.
Source: Gary S. Goldfield, PhD; Risa Mallory, Med; Torrey Parker, MSc; Terrell Cunningham, BA; Christine Legg, BA; Andrew Lumb, BA; Kasey Parker, MSc; Denis Prud-homme, MD, MSc; Isabelle Gaboury, MSc; Kristi B. Adamo, MSc, PhD; Pediatrics, July 2006.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: July 2006