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Despite best efforts, kids are still TV junkies

Efforts to get kids to cut down on the time they spend watching TV or playing video games in the hopes that they might lose weight have so far been largely unsuccessful, according to a new study.

Catherine Birken of Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute and colleagues reviewed 13 large studies involving more than 3,000 children for the study, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

They discovered that every method the original studies tested were unable to help children lose weight or watch less television. Interventions including family and individual counselling, classroom curricula and automatic monitoring of screen time all failed in their aims.

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"Obesity is a complex problem that is probably not going to be solved by one particular intervention in one particular setting," Dr. Birken told Reuters. "That doesn't mean it can't be solved."

Keeping kids away from screens at an early age may be part of the solution. The study found that some interventions helped reduce preschool aged children's viewing by an average of nearly four hours each week. "It's certainly possible to teach parents to reduce screen time in young children," Dr. Birken said.

So, how should parents go about it? Dr. Birken suggests simply turning the tube off. "There's likely very little harm you can cause by reducing screen time."

But is the problem as easily solved as hitting the "off" switch? Getting kids outside and active seems harder and harder these days, as TV, video games and other screens compete for their attention. The 2011 Active Healthy Kids Canada report card says Canadian children get six hours of screen time on weekdays and more than seven hours on Saturdays and Sundays.

Only four per cent of girls and nine per cent of boys get the recommended 60 minutes of daily moderate to vigorous physical activity, according to the Canadian Health Measures survey.

How do you tear your kids away from the screen, whether it's video games or TV?

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About the Author

Dave McGinn writes about fitness trends for the Life section and also reports for Globe Arts. Prior to joining the Globe, he was a freelance journalist, covering topics from trying to eat Michael Phelps' diet to why the Joker is the best villain in comics history. He's working on improving his 10k time. More

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