Kids With Asthma May Get Too Much TV

By Claire McCarthy, M.D.
Content provided by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School

Children with asthma may get too much "screen time," a study finds. The study looked at 224 city children with asthma. Parents were asked how much time their kids spent on TV, video games and computer use. Kids who limited activities because of asthma spent an average of 3.5 hours daily on screen time. Kids who were able to be more active spent about 2.5 hours daily. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 hours a day. Reuters Health news service wrote about the study February 18. Researchers told Reuters that kids can be less active without increasing screen time. They could try reading, games, arts and crafts. The study appeared in the journal Academic Pediatrics.

What Is the Doctor's Reaction?

As if life weren't tough enough for kids with asthma, now a study shows they have another problem.

Researchers from the University of Rochester looked at the daily activities of 224 asthmatic children living in an urban area. They found out something worrisome. More than 3 out of 4 of them spent more than 2 hours a day in front of screens. This includes TVs, computers and video games.

Nearly 2 out of 3 of the children did screen-time activities when they couldn't be more active because of their asthma, their parents said. These children had even more screen time — an average of 3.5 hours a day.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says children should spend no more than 1 to 2 hours per day in front of a screen. This is because:

  • Children who have more than 2 hours a day of screen time are more likely to be overweight.

  • Television viewing in young children can interfere with their development of thinking skills.

  • Kids who watch on-screen violence are more likely to show aggressive behavior.

  • Girls exposed to sex-related messages in the media are more likely to have sex early, with all the possibly dangerous results that brings.

  • Teen pregnancy occurs more often among teens exposed to sexuality in the media.

  • Watching TV can take the place of more healthy and meaningful activities, such as exercise, homework, reading or playing with friends.

The parents of these asthmatic children were limiting their activities because of asthma. They worried that if the children were active, they would have trouble breathing. These parents were trying to do the right thing. These days, though, kids tend to fill up inactive hours with screen time.

To be fair to these parents, the average child spends about 3 hours in front of the television — and more on the Internet or playing video games. But what was interesting in the study is that kids who had fewer limitations because of asthma averaged 2.5 hours of screen time each day. This means that limiting activity led to an extra hour of screen time each day.

What Changes Can I Make Now?

Children with asthma can be active! As a pediatrician, I get very frustrated when I hear that my patients' parents are limiting their activity because of asthma.

These days, we know much more about preventing and treating asthma. The vast majority of children with asthma can be active. It's important to work with your child's doctor. Here are some strategies that can help:

  • Talk to your doctor about preventive medicine. These are advised for certain children:

    • Those who wheeze twice a week or more

    • Those who have a nighttime cough twice or more a month

    Preventive medicine is usually a steroid inhaler, but you and your doctor can decide what is best for your child.

  • Keep track of your child's symptoms using a peak flow meter. These devices are easy to find and to use. They can pick up on problems early. They can help you and doctor better understand how asthma is affecting your child.

  • Have a written Asthma Action Plan. These plans are divided up into three zones:

    • Green — no cough or trouble breathing

    • Yellow — some cough or other asthma symptoms

    • Red — severe trouble breathing

    The plan should include clear instructions on to what medicines to give, and what to do, for each zone.

  • Understand your child's asthma triggers. Exercise is a common one. But so are cold air, upper respiratory infections and allergies. If you and your doctor suspect allergies are a trigger, it can be a good idea to see a specialist for allergy testing, advice, and treatment.

  • Try swimming! Many children with asthma can swim with fewer problems than they have with other activities.

  • Sometimes using an inhaler before exercise can make a difference. Talk to your doctor about whether this makes sense for your child.

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Asthma is more common in boys than girls.