More About Screen Time

Today we continue to look at the mixed bag of opinions that have come to public attention in the past few years about video games, TV viewing, and other couch-potato pastimes. For GameTheoryOnline, Nadia Oxford wrote a piece that admitted the perceived problem upfront:

Gaming is generally a sedentary activity, and with childhood obesity rates on the rise, video games are walloped with a lot of blame for kids’ poor exercise habits.

The title of the work is “5 Reasons Why Video Games are Good for Kids,” and one those reasons, of course, is that exercise can be built in. Oxford mentioned Wii Fit from Nintendo and the series called “Just Dance” from Ubisoft, both of which are still available in current editions. She also spoke of the ever-popular Dance Dance Revolution, and expressed approval of the presence of this program in public schools.

That was five years ago, and many more video-game/physical activity combinations have been invented since then. But there is another, not quite so obvious, and in fact rather subtle benefit that video games may confer. Games train the brain to become sharper, and many people believe that physical improvement can consequently result by indirect means.

Skills like system thinking, pattern recognition, and problem solving can carry over. Another thing that can be learned from games is patience, which is closely related to the very valuable ability to anticipate and appreciate delayed gratification.

Even the people who most earnestly want to establish a direct connection between exercise and weight loss — especially in the young — find it difficult to point to studies that confirm their conviction. In this context, there is a strange similarity between video games and exercise. Dr. Colin Higgs of “Canadian Sports for Life” defined the multiple benefits of physical activity, especially during a child’s first six years, and only one is weight-connected.

Some of the other benefits of exercise are coordination, imagination, stress resistance, decision making, prediction, leadership, self-esteem, and confidence. All those same benefits can also be shown to accrue from video gaming, with no physical exercise involved at all — not at the immediate moment, anyway.

But all those qualities can carry over into other areas of life. A kid who achieves high levels or awesome scores in video games might very well become empowered and believe that she can achieve a healthier and more awesome physique.

Prof. David Bickham, who was lead author of a Harvard Medical School study of the relationship between screen time and obesity, maintains that obesity is not a disease of inactivity. The concept of displacement enters into his suggestions, as we see from a article:

Bickham says three theories have been floated for the link between screen time and obesity: food advertising, unconscious eating and displacement — that is, the idea that the media use replaces physical activity. His team’s findings lent more support to the first two variables and less to the third. They found video games and computer use had no impact on BMI (body mass index). Television did, but only if it was the main event. Background TV, for example, didn’t matter.

A University of Texas study published less than a year ago found that “television is not to blame for childhood obesity.” Then what is? The child’s social life. Even kids who watch a shipload of television are less likely to become obese if they also spend a lot of time playing with their little friends.

Reportage on this study says it is because kids with friends are more likely to run around outside with them, burning calories and staying fit. But what about kids who don’t have access to outside? What if they live in dangerous neighborhoods or high-rise buildings, or both?

Bonus link:

Worth mentioning is the 2014 short (under 4 minutes) and funny film, Snackpocalypse, which includes a cameo appearance by First Lady Michelle Obama.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “5 Reasons Why Video Games are Good for Kids,”, 12/26/11
Source: “Consumption Junction: Childhood Obesity Determined Largely by Environmental Factors, Not Genes or Sloth,”, 04/09/13
Source: “Study finds link between social life, childhood obesity,”, 08/25/15
Photo credit: Jitabebe via BY

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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