Doctors Urged to Monitor
Patients' Screen Time
American Academy of Pediatrics wants doctors to investigate the time children are sat in front of the television
by Lindsey Tanner (Associated Press)

CHICAGO -- The American Academy of Pediatrics wants to turn children's doctors into activity police, encouraging them to routinely monitor how active patients and even their parents are each day to help conquer obesity.

Boosting daily physical activity from infancy through the teen years is a key to fighting fat, and parents need to set good examples by adopting active lifestyles, the group says in a new policy statement.

It is published in the May issue of the journal Pediatrics, for release today.

The policy says pediatricians should ask patients and parents at regular office visits how active they are. They also should document how much time patients spend each day on sedentary activities and urge them to follow AAP guidelines recommending no television for children younger than 2 and no more than two hours daily of television, video games and other "screen time" for older children.

Also, schools should reinstate mandatory daily physical education from kindergarten through high school.

Parents are encouraged to "become good role models by increasing their own level of physical activity" and to make active pursuits a part of the family lifestyle starting when children are infants, with regular walks to the park or zoo and by routinely engaging in physical play with them.

Preschoolers should take part in unorganized outdoor activities and begin walking "tolerable distances" with family members. Older children and adolescents should be physically active for at least an hour daily, and organized sports might be started when children are school age, the policy says.

"I've been giving this advice for a long time. Most of the time parents don't feel that it is an imposition," said policy co-author Dr. Jorge Gomez, a pediatrician at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.

For parents who say busy work schedules and other factors make it hard for the family to be active, "we sit down and troubleshoot," he said. "A little is better than nothing. You don't have to play with your child every day, but on your day off, make a point of doing something outside with your child," including taking a walk, flying a kite or playing ball.

Angie Dixon, 38, a writer in Little Rock, Ark., agreed that physical activity is important but said the recommendations "certainly could become intrusive" if doctors aren't sensitive to families' constraints.

"With two kids, there's not much time when I don't have somebody bothering me," she said. Still, she said, she tries to walk for exercise several times a week and encourages her 8-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son to be active, too.

Government figures published in April show that more than one-third of U.S. children are overweight and that about 17 percent are obese.

Dr. Peter Belamarich, a pediatrician with Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York, said the academy is right to urge doctors to intensify their efforts to curb the problem.

"I think it's fantastic. I think we should be taking a leadership role in this area," Belamarich said. "This is a national health problem that is going to just overwhelm us as a society if we don't attend to it."