New Delhi-based workshop consultant Anjinie Goel still wonders what she was thinking when a year ago, she encouraged her son, Kushagra, to watch television. The active six-year-old was made to watch TV in an effort to make him sit still. It was a tired parent`s cop out ploy, admits Goel candidly, but it came at a heavy price. "For 20 days, Kushagra became obsessed with television. He began to lose focus while performing tasks, and grew inattentive. I had to finally pull the cable wire and pretend it was burnt, to get him to stop watching TV," says the 37-year-old. Kushagra now watches just an hour of television each day.
Dr Caroline Fitzpatrick, a researcher at the University of Montreal, would approve.
Together with researchers Linda Pagani and Tracie Barnett, Fitzpatrick has co-authored a recent study that finds that excessive television viewing in early childhood leads to decreased muscular fitness by class 2, and increased waist circumference by class 4.
The study looked at 1,314 kids between two-and-a-half years to four years in Quebec, Canada, who watched about nine hours of television each week. These children were tracked for seven years. The study found that a child`s waist grew by .042 cm (little less than half a millimeter) for every hour of TV watched. The four-year-olds who watched 18 hours of television each week gained an extra 0.3 inches, on their waist by the time they turned 10. Since the risk for obesity can be tracked to middle childhood, a surplus of weight by class 4 represents an important health concern, says Fitzpatrick.
A 2011 Associated Chambers of Commerce study among 2,000 kids in 11 Indian cities revealed that 52 per cent had a TV set in their own rooms. Chandigarh topped the pile, with 88 per cent kids watching five to seven hours of TV a day.
No jumping jack
Watching more television in early childhood is also associated with an increased probability of scoring in the bottom five per cent in the standing long jump test, commonly used to measure a child`s lower body strength. Each added hour of television made kids perform about .36 centimeters worse on a standing long jump.
On a Monday morning at the JBCN International School in Borivli, nearly 20 students of Class 2 are undergoing warm-up exercises with their gym instructor, Bhaskar Naidu.
Across the hall, six-foot long floor mats lie next to each other. Soon, the kids will be made to perform standing long jumps, to test their explosive leg strength, which, says the study, "contributes to the performance of movements that require speed and power." Naidu draws a chalk line, asking the second graders to jump across it. Some just about achieve it, others jump further. Proud, Naidu smiles.
Based on data compiled by sports management outfit Edusports, a class 2 student should be able to perform a long jump of at least 1.3 m (4.2 feet, approximately). The Bengalurubased company set up in 2009 teaches gross motor, athletic and sports skills to over 1.6 lakh students from KG to Class 10, in 225 schools across 70 Indian cities. Children are graded on exercises that test aerobic and anaerobic capacity, upper body and lower body strength, and flexibility. A Class 2 student is also taught to dribble and throw a ball, hop, turn and twist, balance on one leg, and have accurate handeye coordination, through various games and play equipment. The requirements are based on guidelines set by the US-based National Association for Sports and Physical Education.
"In the past three years, we have tracked each student`s progress, and based on the data, created norms for each age," says founder Saumil Majumdar. "The fault doesn`t lie with television alone," says Majumdar. "What are we doing to ensure that children have safe play spaces? The more they play, the more easily they will develop age-appropriate skills and muscle strength."
No one can eat just one
Dr Paresh Desai, a consulting paediatrician with Saifee and Bhatia hospitals, Mumbai, doesn`t let TV off the hook as easily as Majumdar does.
What the kids watch has as much impact on their health, says Desai, citing examples of Bollywood stars that endorse chips and colas. "It`s not just junk food, but a junk lifestyle," says Desai, several of whose patients are victims of childhood obesity. "Unhealthy snacks are stacked up in homes, kids are encouraged to eat in front of the television, and worse, fed by an adult," says Desai.
Yet, says JBCN International principal Debika Chatterji, it`s not easy to control how much time a child spends in front of the TV. "The most we can do at school is ensure playtime," she reasons.
Fitzpatrick however, is clear that TV viewing time needs to be cut down, before any improvement can be seen among kids. "We saw that children who watched TV didn`t have too much time for physical activity. If they are not developing between two-and-a-half and four years, it affects their growth, as there is continuity in that behaviour at a later age.
The waist circumference decreased, when children decreased their TV viewing," she says.
While the recommended TV viewing time is one hour for kids aged two and above, Fitzpatrick advises parents to replace TV time with not just play, but also mind games like puzzles.
The problem in numbers
Less than 40% Indian students possess age-appropriate skills (like jumping 1.3m at age 7) 50% Indian students don`t have age-appropriate BMI (measure of body fat based on an individual`s weight and height) In the Quebec study, a child`s waist grew by .042 CM for every hour of TV watched.
BDST: 1556 HRS, AUG 07, 2012
Edited by: Sharmina Islam, Lifestyle Editor
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