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Generation XL:The Rise of Childhood Obesity

Michal Horevaj

Screen Play

Exercise helps maintain weight and lowers the risk of problems like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. But how's your school-age child supposed to find time to toss a ball around when she spends an average of seven and a half hours daily using computers, video games, TV, and cell phones? Even younger children fail the screen test: 83 percent of kids ages 6 months to 6 years watch TV or videos for two hours every day. And then there's the issue of the almost 4,000 kid-oriented food and beverage ads your child sees each year, 98 percent of which promote high-fat, high-sugar, or high-sodium kiddie fare. Thanks to a decision in the '70s that prevented the Federal Trade Commission from limiting such commercials, the food and beverage industry now spends nearly $2 billion a year marketing schlocky foods and drinks directly to kids. And not just through TV—ads work their way into cell phones, podcasts, webisodes, and sneaky movie- and video-game placements. Research shows kids start asking for specific products when they're just 24 months old (47 percent of first requests are for sugary breakfast cereals). Ads can even have an instant effect: Children eat 45 percent more food when watching shows with food ads.

What YOU Can Do

Follow the guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics: no TV for kids under 2 years and limit media time for older kids to one to two hours of quality programming daily. The AAP also recommends that children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily. Stock up on jump ropes, Frisbees, and other toys that encourage exercise. Another idea: chores. (Remember those?) Check out the chart at left to see how many calories your kid could burn helping out. Of course, your child would burn more calories playing soccer (204 calories), basketball (162 calories), or tennis (162 calories) for an hour, but then you wouldn't have a shiny car or clean garage, huh?