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Health & Exercise Forum

Kids, Computers, and Childhood Obesity

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Sep 16, 2013

Dr. Mackarey's Health & Exercise ForumSeptember is National Childhood Obesity Month. Obesity in America has become an epidemic and in contemporary society, this problem cannot be effectively addressed without recognizing the impact of computer technology on obesity. Computer technology has made our lives much easier. Computers allow us to communicate with each other faster, book vacations, shop in stores, visit the library, and develop photographs. Ancient Chinese culture would warn that this positive “Yang” must have a negative “Yin”.  Recent studies have shown that excessive use of electronic devices (i.e. computers, cell phones, electronic books, etc) contributes to childhood obesity and a host of other problems such as computer vision syndrome.

Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. Obesity in children from 1980 to 2008 has increased from 6.5% in 1980 to 19.6% in 2008 in children between 6 to 11 years of age and from 5.0% to 18.1% in adolescents between 12 to 19 years of age.  Childhood obesity is associated with increased cardiovascular risk in adulthood for heart attack and stroke.  Obesity results from not only our heredity but also from the amount of physical activity or exercise that we do or are encouraged to do. Obesity results from an imbalance between the amount or quality of food we eat and the amount of physical activity or exercise we perform.

Since childhood obesity is linked with physical inactivity, increasing regular exercise is an important component in preventing obesity.  As parents, we must consider alternatives to our children’s computerized pursuits and encourage them to engage in physical activities. Adults must be good role models regarding healthy eating and regular exercise. Consider planning an active family vacation with activities that involve hiking, biking, kayaking, white water rafting, and mountain climbing.   Encourage children to participate in scholastic or intramural sports including baseball, softball, football, soccer, skiing, tennis, and golf.

Unfortunately, many of today’s children are on some type of computerized device almost all day. If they are not communicating with their friends online, then they are texting them on their cell phones.  If they are not completing a homework assignment online, then they are reading their electronic book. It’s not only the teenagers, but also elementary and preschool children.

Introducing children to computers has improved their academic achievement.  Studies show that children who used computers excelled in their levels of attention, memory, language development, comprehension, problem solving, and decision making, when compared to children who did not use computers. Children who did computer work both at home and at school performed better than those who did computer work only at school.

However, you know what “too much of a good thing” causes…harm! In addition to obesity, many eye care practitioners who specialize in children’s vision believe that prolonged computer use among children puts them at risk for progressive nearsightedness. To see clearly, the eyes have to focus. Focusing requires the use of our eye muscles. Use of any muscle strains the muscle and the muscle becomes tired and fatigued. Excessive use of any muscle causes muscle damage and injury.  Some vision specialists believe that eye muscle fatigue caused by excessive focusing can lead to changes within the eye that cause nearsightedness. Experts agree that focusing on images on a computer screen causes greater eye fatigue than reading normal print in a book/ magazine or even watching a television program.

As parents, we must teach our children how to balance their yins and yangs. To reduce the likelihood of obesity, limit constant use of computer technology and encourage regular physical activity and healthy eating. To reduce eye muscle fatigue from excessive time spent on electronic devices, many eye doctors recommend the 20-20-10 rule, which allows the eye muscles to rest. Every 20 minutes, your child should take his eyes off the electronic screen and look at an object at least 20 feet away for at least 10 seconds. This healthy habit allows your child to take frequent breaks from his electronic device. Parents should set guidelines on the amount of time that they allow their children to spend on computers, cell phones, and electronic books/toys, because these activities do not promote physical activity, and could contribute to childhood obesity and eye problems.

If your child spends an excessive amount of time on electronic devices, he may exhibit signs of vision problems including squinting, frequent eye rubbing, red eyes, head turns, unusual postures, and complaints of blurred vision. If your child avoids using the computer, this may also be a sign. Your awareness of their visual difficulties will only be apparent if you watch and work with your child. To make sure that our children are ready for computer use at school, schedule a comprehensive eye examination with your optometrist at the start of every school year.

For More Information about Obesity and Vision Problems from Excessive Computer Use:

Guest Columnist: Janet Caputo, PT, DPT, OCS specializes in orthopedic and neurological rehabilitation. Dr. Caputo is clinic director at Mackarey & Mackarey Physical Therapy Consultants, LLC.

Read “Health & Exercise Forum” in the Scranton Times-Tribune every Monday.  This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College.