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Study shows Utah kids imbibe in too much TV, soda

Published April 24, 2008 1:17 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A first-of-a-kind survey says a majority of Utah children are watching more TV than doctors recommend, and one in seven are guzzling more soft drinks than is healthy.

Both behaviors are associated with obesity, but few state resources are put toward curbing the gazing and gluttony.

Tracking children's TV and soda habits for the first time, the Utah Department of Health found 14 percent of children ages 5 to 17 drink more than five sodas a week. The department calculates kids could have five sodas a week - as long as they ate no other sugar.

About 71 percent of children watch two or more hours of TV on weekends, with 31 percent watching that much on school days, the survey found. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends only one or two hours a day for children 2 and older.

"It's a red flag to see that the numbers are as high as they are," said Lynda Blades, the health department's physical activity coordinator.

The findings were part of a larger risk factor survey conducted by the department last year and were released as promotes its second annual Unplug 'n Play Week. The national program started in 1995 and runs through this week.

Students from 70 schools have pledged to limit their time in front of TVs and computers and to increase their physical activity. Almost 30 Utah families have pledged to do the same.

National data show children watch three hours of TV a day. The American Academy of Pediatrics says TV watching is linked with obesity, violent or aggressive behavior, substance abuse, sexual activity and poor school performance.

Heather Seve joined Unplug 'n Play because she wanted her two sons to spend less time playing video games. She already limits Talavou, 12, and Matai, 9, to one hour a day, but she wanted to do more.

"If I allow them to sit and play the video games, they would," said Seve, who lives in Salt Lake City.

But once the Salt Lake City mom encourages her boys to get outside, they're happy. It's been harder on her to read after dinner instead of channel-surf. "We do have days [where] I'm just feeling lazy, where I'd rather sit around and watch [TV]."

When it comes to soda, the 2007 survey found soft drinks are a staple of children's diets, with 66 percent drinking at least one a week.

Patrice Isabella, a nutrition coordinator at the state Health Department, figured the five sodas a week with no other sugar guideline based on federal dietary guidelines.

The APA - which says each 12-ounce sugary soda has been associated with a 60 percent increase in the risk for obesity - says schools should ban the sale of soft drinks during school hours.

Last year, the Health Department supported such a rule in Utah. But the state Board of Education instead passed a watered-down version telling school districts to develop a vending machine policy that could ban junk food.

There is no specific state program to limit consumption of soda.

While Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. requested $200,000 to jump-start an anti-obesity "partnership," the Legislature didn't fund the program this year, meaning there are no state funds specifically set aside for decreasing obesity.

hmay@sltrib.com

* Read more about

Unplug 'n Play Week at http://health.utah.gov.