Solving for Childhood Obesity: Less Screen Time. More Bike Time.

Happen upon any gaggle of teens in America right now and you’ll see some alarming trends. I’m talking about mom jeans, fanny packs, and mascara ala Avril Lavigne from 2006 (that Avril look is so in right now.) If these items weren’t overtly worrisome enough, the sight of a 10-year-old staring unblinkingly at an iPhone should be a bit more alarming.

“Kids spent too much time on their phones” is this parental generation’s most common gripe. The only problem is that we older, wiser, and conceivably more responsible adults don’t seem to be doing too much about it. 

Childhood Obesity Statistics

Kids 8-18 spend, on average, 7.5 hours in front of a screen for entertainment every day. 4.5 of those hours consists of television. In total, it’s estimated that kids 8-18 spend 114 full days in front of a screen each year. 

And remember – that’s just for entertainment purposes. That doesn’t even include screentime for school or learning. With remote learning being the primary education model for much of 2020, total screen time for kids is at all-time highs.

While it’d be easy to blame new variables such as smartphones and social media for the dramatic increases in sedentary habits, the reality is that Americans have been moving less and less. Adults have to take some responsibility for their kids’ screen-addicted habits. 

As this study from Brookings demonstrates, “free time” has become “screentime” for most Americans. And our kids are following in our footsteps. Well, more accurately, sitting right beside us on the couch.

Now, I get it. Correlation is not causation. There are a myriad of variables at play that are causing kids (and adults to spend more time in front of screens and gain weight. But I’m not smart enough to solve those variables. But I do know that switching off devices and getting the kids outside for a ride is something we all can do.

I really like riding bikes. Since I’m a mildly selfish and conceited person, I think everyone should ride bikes more. But kids, especially, need us older folks to get them outside, on a bike, and to blow the stink off. Kids tend to mimic the habits of their parents, for better or worse, so it’s imperative that we demonstrate to them that life is better on two wheels than it is stuck in their bedroom playing Fortnite. 

If we can get kids off screens and on bikes, there’s a non-zero chance that obesity rates will fall for our county’s youth. Helping kids develop these life-long habits of active living is going to make the world a much happier and healthier place for decades to come. 

The biggest challenge? Logging off Wordle and getting outside. Let’s make it happen. 

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