A Serious Effect of So Much Screen Time

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More consequences of the extensive time spent in front of screens by children keeps showing up in the media. The Boston Globe today ran a column decrying the state of children’s health. The author, Terry Schraeder, a physician, points to data showing increasing signs of disease and poor health in children. Specifically, he picks out very high lipid levels—symptoms that traditionally belong to older people. This condition bodes poorly for these children because, he noters, “We know that untreated cholesterol disorders in children are linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease in adulthood.”

The most striking and disturbing piece in the column was the tale of his experience tending the kids at a summer camp.

Of the 850 children in attendance, more than one-third would line up daily to receive medication they had brought from home - and this was a camp for healthy kids. Medications for anxiety, asthma, gastric problems, blood pressure, blood sugar, skin disorders, and weight issues were handed out three times a day.

He wondered whether the cause was excessive pushing by the the pharmaceutical industry, normal health profiles at these ages, or some societal factor causing poor health. These same over-medicated children exhibited poor stamina, overweight, and inability to perform physical activities. “They often looked happier sitting on the sidelines listening to iPods or eating than taking part in any exercise.”

Based on the Kaiser Family Foundation report I refer to in a couple of recent posts, Schraeder suggests that the long hours spent in front of screens of one kind or another are involved. It’s hard not to come to that conclusion even for a medical layman. My previous comments have been directed to the impact of all this media-based technology on children. He, noting also that the health of children presages the health of the whole society, wonders about the future of us grown-ups. Isn’t this situation about the same as that for the environment where indicators of its poor health have been with us for a long time? Now we have more evidence that the human dimension of sustainability is in jeopardy. Popping more and more pills is not going to bring us flourishing any more than putting corks in smokestacks will do the job for the Earth.

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