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The impact of technology on children's physical activity
The impact of technology on children's physical activity

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3 What impact does screen time have on activity levels?

As shown in the video in Activity 2, currently children in Western society typically have access to at least one device, such as a tablet or smartphone or some form of games console. In fact, research shows that by the age of 10 years, children have access to five different screens at home (Richardson, 2012). But in what ways does this impact a child’s physical activity levels? Is screen time always sedentary and does it always discourage physical activity?

Described image
Figure 3 Two young girls playing on a tablet

Some academic studies have linked the rise in screen time (television, computers, video games and mobile devices) to a lack of physical activity in children. For example, Maher et al. (2012) conducted a study with 2,200 Australian 9- to 16-year-olds and found that an increased likelihood of a child being overweight or obese was often associated with higher screen time. One possible explanation for this is that certain unhealthy behaviours may occur alongside screen time, such as frequent snacking, long periods of inactivity and disruptions to sleep.

In the academic literature investigating screen time, many studies refer to ‘sedentary behaviour’, which is typically any activity involving sitting or lying down. It is important to note that sedentary behaviour and physical activity are not mutually exclusive and that very active children can also engage in sedentary activities. Fakhouri et al. (2013) used data from a U.S. national survey and found that fewer than four in ten children met both physical activity and screen time recommendations (screen time recommendations were no more than two hours a day). Even so, the study clearly stated that low levels of screen time viewing may not necessarily predict higher levels of physical activity.

In Activity 3, you will read an article about a poll that explored whether parents felt that increased screen time reduces children’s physical activity levels, and to consider the statistical evidence produced.

Activity 3 iPad kids

Timing: Allow 30 minutes

Read the article ‘iPad Kids’ at risk of long-term poor health as parents struggle to wean children off gadgets [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] and then answer the following question:

  • What are the three key statistical points that you feel this article contributes to the screen time versus physical activity debate?


After reading the article, the course team picked out the following three statistics as being important to the discussion regarding technology and physical activity:

  • Just 47 per cent of parents think that there are enough affordable opportunities for children to be active in their local area during school holidays, potentially resulting in children turning more to computer-based activities.
  • 87 per cent of British parents feel that increased use of tablets and smartphones by children has contributed to a decline in the amount of exercise they do.
  • In all, 34 per cent of parents disagreed that parents were provided with enough information by the government on the health risks of excessive sedentary time.

You may have noted that these statistics illustrate that the amount of time that children spend engaging with technology is an issue very much intertwined with parenting styles and wider society in general.