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Screen Time Is Worse Than Just Sitting on Your Butt

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Bad news for parents who like to shower: plopping kids in front of the TV, computer or video games may put them at greater risk for heart disease. The good news? There's a work-around, especially if your showers don't last for hours.

A study out of Canada found that kids who sat in front of screens more than the recommended two-hour limit consumed more calories in the day than kids who were just as inactive but not in front of a screen.

RELATED: Things to Do With Your Kids Other Than Watch TV

Team Prodigy—a group of researchers from the University of Ottawa, Université de Montréal, Concordia University, Université Laval and McGill University—conducted a study of 500 white 8- to 10-year-olds in Canada who had at least one parent who was clinically obese. For seven days, the kids wore accelerometers, which record the level of its wearer's physical activity. The participants also self-reported everything they ate during two weekdays of the study and one weekend day.

The researchers crunched the data, and what they found was that screen time was linked to lower levels of the good HDL cholesterol that doctors believe helps protect heart health. The researchers think the excess caloric consumption that often happens while watching TV or playing video games is connected to their HDL findings.

Lead researcher Jean-Philippe Chaput, a professor in the department of pediatrics at the University of Ottawa and researcher at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, explained in the Toronto Globe and Mail that health researchers have long known TV stimulates eating."So, the fact that we eat more when we engage in screen time can lead to health problems down the road as opposed to just reading a book for pleasure or relaxing on the couch without screens. It seems to be better probably because we eat less.”

What do you do if screens are all a part of your stay-sane strategy as a parent?

More than half of the downtime recorded in the study was spent in front of the screen, though 40 percent of the participants kept below the recommended two-hour daily limit. The doctor recommended that parents be good role models and stay active and eat less junk and all those other things we know but sometimes can't help but fail at.

But is there anything else we can do? Of course. Though the study doesn't show that correlation equals causation—in other words, that watching TV will give your kid heart disease—let's say the findings make us nervous anyway. What do you do if screens are all a part of your stay-sane strategy as a parent?

RELATED: How to Monitor Your Child's TV Time

What about making a rule that eating can only happen at the table and not on the couch in front of the TV? Or, requiring the screens be turned off before the watcher can get a snack (this can get dicey if screen time is also together time). And that leads me to my favorite: kids have to wait 30 minutes before getting a snack after the TV goes off.

I've noticed how connected eating and watching TV is for my kids (for me, too, I admit!), and of course I know that's got health consequences. But I also know that sometimes, TV or video games or messing around on the computer is what is going to make those late afternoon hours go faster, and I'll do it anyway.

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