If a doctor prescribed your child amoxicillin for strep throat, would you fill the prescription?
If your child were prescribed albuterol for wheezing, would you give it during an asthma attack?
If your child watches 7 hours of TV a day, would you heed a prescription directing them to spend more time outside? You should, because spending less time watching TV and more time outside is equally important as correctly treating strep throat or an asthma attack.
It may be hard to believe, but the average child less than 10 years of age watches 35 hours of TV a week. 35 hours.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes this as a significant national problem and has recommended no more than 7 hours of TV a week.
Why? Why limit TV?
Multiple studies have shown that excessive media exposure can lead to difficulties in school, obesity, attention problems, sleep disturbance, and violence.
Here are some facts about TV related to violence:
The average American kid by age 18 has seen over 200,000 violent acts on TV and 16,000 murders.
Two-thirds of all programing, including children’s programing, contains violence (let’s face it, Scar from The Lion King was very scary).
A 15-year-long study done at the University of Michigan found a link between childhood TV viewing (especially violent TV) and aggressive violent behavior persisting into adulthood.
Even more alarming, a study from the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine simply looked at TV exposure, direct and indirect, among 3 year olds. The researchers found that 3 year olds who are exposed to more TV are at increased risk of violent aggressive behavior.
TV can be bad for kids’ mental health, but what about their physical health?
A study in Pediatrics found that just being awake with a TV on in the room more than 2 hours a day put toddlers at risk of becoming overweight.
Researchers at the University of Michigan investigated whether TV watching, diet, physical activity, or sedentary behavior predicted elevated BMI among 3 to 7 year olds. They found that excessive TV viewing was most associated with becoming overweight.
The research supports common sense. Excessive TV exposure is bad for kids, but every year kids are watching more TV.
TV viewing among kids is up almost 15% since 2009. Obesity rates are up and violence among youth is widespread, with homicide being the second leading cause of death between ages 15 and 24. What is going down? It is the amount of time kids are spending outside.
A report out of Seattle Children’s Hospital looked at almost 9000 kids and found only 50% of them went outside once a day to walk or play.
To help combat the epidemic of pediatric outdoor avoidance syndrome, pediatricians in Massachusetts are taking a new approach: writing a prescription for the outdoors.
Doctors are partnering with the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) to help children learn about nature, appreciate nature, and get exercise while doing so.
Children who are identified as being at risk (sedentary lifestyle, elevated BMI, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc) can get a prescription from their doctor to get outside. The goal of this pilot project is to improve the health of children and raise awareness of how important outdoor play is.
Why is nature so important? Studies continue to show that exposure to the outdoors reduces high blood pressure, improves mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, and can help kids maintain a healthy BMI.
When a physician writes a prescription for the outdoors, the child and family become part of the AMC Outdoors Rx community. Trained volunteers and staff help families try new activities, find new places to explore, and make outdoor activities fun and educational.
As incentive, children who participate receive points every time they get outside. Their points add up and they can cash them in for gifts from outdoor activity companies (such as REI).
The AMC and pediatricians in Massachusetts are doing it right. Physicians may not be outdoor experts, but when they collaborate with people who are, the results are remarkable.
Our future depends on 2 things: the preservation of nature and the health of our children. By getting kids outside and teaching them about nature, we simultaneously improve their health and nature’s health.
To quote a billboard I saw when driving to a local state park:
Ahhh…the Great Indoors…said no one ever.