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Turn Off the TV
By Ann G. Kulze, M.D.

As the mother of four school-aged children and a physician devoted to teaching Americans how to stay well, I applaud the Institute of Medicine for its recent report calling for swift and comprehensive action to address the unprecedented obesity epidemic occurring in American youth. Today's youth are gaining weight twice as fast as their parents, with obesity rates doubling for children and tripling for teens over the past 20 years. The problem is profound and left unchecked, will have untold impacts on the health, quality of life, and economic welfare of our children and this country. Although tackling it effectively will indeed take a "full court press", there is one simple, yet unbeatable measure parents can immediately implement - Turn off the TV! (video games and non-academic computer use included)

Recent compelling studies reveal that of the three interventions to prevent unhealthy weight gain in children, namely increased physical activity, dietary modification and limiting TV, restricting television was the single-most effective measure. A 2003 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that for every 2 hours of daily television, the risk of obesity increases by a whopping 25%! (keep in mind that the average child spends 3-4 hours a day in front of the television). Indeed television viewing has emerged as the most powerful behavioral predictor of obesity. According to Harvard's Department of Public Health, "the relationship between television viewing and obesity is nearly as strong as the relationship between smoking and lung cancer."

For parents that are still not convinced, keep in mind that virtually every study focused on television viewing and its effects on health or behavior has yielded negative results. Some of the more frightening findings reported just this year include:

1. Television viewing between the ages of 5-15 increases the risk of high cholesterol, smoking, poor fitness and being overweight in adulthood (The Lancet, July 2004).

2. Teenagers that watch television with sexual content are twice as likely to have sexual intercourse as those who don't (Pediatrics, September 2004).

3. Children who watch television (regardless of explicit sexual content) are more likely to become sexually active at an earlier age (Rand Institute, October 2004)

4. Each hour of TV watched per day at ages 1-3 increases the risk of attention problems, like ADHD, by almost 10% at age 7 (Pediatrics, April 2004).

Finally, I remind you that just this past year the CDC announced that obesity is right on the heels of smoking as the number one cause of preventable death in our country. And just as no loving, rational parent would ever allow a child to smoke cigarettes, I say no loving, rational parent should permit a child to over-indulge in a behavior known to significantly increase the risk of a life-threatening condition. I implore my fellow parents to initiate a full court press, and the first play is to Turn Off the TV!

Ann G. Kulze, M.D. is the author of Dr. Ann's 10-Step Diet, A Simple Plan for Permanent Weight Loss and Lifelong Vitality and CEO of Just Wellness, LLC 40 Calhoun Street Charleston, SC 29401 (843) 853.5803

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