Before You Go - July 2013
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Technology Overload
Parents Concerned Tech Gadgets Hinder Summertime Fun

By Deborah L. Vence

If you think back to your own childhood summertime memories, you might recall swimming in the pool, playing outside with the neighborhood kids or riding your bike as being at the top of the list. However, a new survey shows that parents are worried that their children's summertime memories will be of electronic devices, instead of fun in the sun.

The Mason-Dixon Survey, which was conducted on behalf of the Water Quality and Health Council, an independent, multidisciplinary group sponsored by the Chlorine Chemistry Division of the American Chemistry Council, an industry trade association, indicated that 86 percent of parents said electronics—such as videogames, smart phones and tablets—are interfering with time-honored family activities.

Parents who were interviewed for the telephone survey—which was conducted from May 2 through May 9 and queried 1,000 adults with at least one child between the ages of 5 and 14 nationwide—said "the smell of chlorine" is their strongest sensory summertime swimming pool memory, and credited swimming with improving children's cardiovascular health, followed by increased strength and flexibility—not to mention developing motor skills, managing weight as well as asthma symptoms, and having a positive impact on children's social skills.

"Based on our survey, it seems that as children get older, they are able to access more choices of devices and the more likely they are to be spending time on cell phones, tablets and videogames. We don't want to suggest that these activities are bad, but it's important from a health perspective to strike a balance," said Chris Wiant, a member of the Water Quality and Health Council. "Swimming may be unique in that it helps with cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, strength and weight management. Furthermore, it is easy on the joints, and swimming often has a social interaction component. It is not only a healthy activity, but it's also a fun activity."

The survey also indicated that 93 percent of parents are concerned that their children are suffering negative health consequences from spending too much time on electronic devices rather than physical activities, such as swimming.

"Once a sedentary or inactive lifestyle becomes routine, it may be difficult to reverse later in life. That is why there is such an emphasis on prevention, especially in kids," Wiant said. "Making healthy lifestyle choices now will help prevent the negative consequences of chronic disease later in life. It's less about being indoors vs. being outdoors and more about being inactive vs. being active. The outdoors is just so much more appealing, especially when the weather is nice in the summer. And pools provide a good and healthy option to be outside and enjoy recreation."

In fact, much has been written over the past few years regarding the risk associated with sedentary lifestyles of kids and adults.

"This trend has been emphasized by the measured increase in childhood obesity over the last few decades. The response has been more attention paid to the need to move and become more active if we are to reverse the trend," Wiant said.

As more new and exciting technologies are created, physical activity has endured more competition—even more than when watching television was confirmed to be a risk for a sedentary lifestyle.

"A study from just a couple years ago found that children spend about 28 hours a week watching television," Wiant said. "And when you included computers, videogames and cell phone use, kids were averaging 7.5 hours a day on sitting and consuming information. Given that tablets have become even more popular, we wouldn't be surprised if these figures have worsened since the survey."

The survey also included some tips on how to help kids get active over the summerincluding locating the nearest public pool and ensuring kids learn to swim.

"It's important for parents to model the use of electronic devices for their children and set an example. Turn off devices while having a family meal. Do not look at devices while doing a planned family activity, whether it is indoors or outside. Plan an electronic-free day, etc. Kids do model their behavior after their parents," said Dr. Ralph Morris, a member of the Water Quality and Health Council.

Furthermore, when asked how recreation facilities can help in enticing more kids to swim, Wiant said that access to swimming pools is not a challenge, and that many community-sponsored and/or -operated recreational facilities are available to the public for free or at a nominal cost.

"Such facilities work hard to attract kids to classes, clinics and other supervised activities and competition opportunities that are marketed specifically to various ages (young and old)," he said. "Not everyone can have a backyard pool or know someone with a backyard pool. Recreational facilities are not only excellent in terms of access to swimming pools, but they are a great place for children to socialize with other children. And as our survey showed, parents are worried about the social impact on children who spend too much time on electronic gadgets."