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Key to ‘appy kids’: Healthy Day helps parents strike balance

An Australian-designed app is helping to strike a balance for kids’ activities and screen time, monitoring key aspects such as sleep and exercise.

September 18, 2022
By Katelyn Catanzariti
18 September 2022

Australian academics have launched what is believed to be a world-first app to guide parents to a balanced, ‘just right’ day for their children.

Most parents worry over getting the mix right: are their kids getting enough sleep and exercise; are they spending too long in front of a screen?

The Healthy Day App enables hypothetical adjustments to time-use behaviours to measure possible impact, helping parents understand which combination of activities can best help mental, physical and academic outcomes.

Lead researcher Dot Dumuid, while rink-side at her daughter’s early-morning ice skating lesson, said with “only 24 hours in every day, it’s hard to fit everything in with the competing demands on our time”.

“I wish we had the key – that would be awesome because everyone struggles with it,” she said.

“Parents do worry about getting all this right for their kids. And then, what your kids want to do and what they think is important may not match what you think is important or school thinks is important.

“The app is good to play around with for different ways to reallocate time and an estimate of how that is predicted to impact health.”

Switching an hour of screen time for one of exercise could mean 4.2 per cent lower body fat and 2.5 per cent improved wellbeing

The app, developed by the University of South Australia and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, is based on data from 1685 children aged 11-12 in the Australian Child Health CheckPoint study.

It suggests that simple measures can make an impact: for example, switching an hour of screen time for one of exercise could mean 4.2 per cent lower body fat, 2.5 per cent improved wellbeing and 0.9 per cent higher academic performance.

Dr Dumuid said as well as helping parents juggle relaxation time, homework and extra-curricular commitments, getting the balance right now could make for better long-term health prospects, lowering the chances of heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

“What our kids do with their time does affect a lot of things across their health,” she said.

“Some of that stuff is not felt now – like being a little bit on the overweight side – but (the trouble can) start in childhood and be felt later in life, through diabetes or heart disease.”

Despite the name of the app, the balance does not have to be spot-on daily. Sometimes children, and adults, just have a quiet day with too much screen time – and Dr Dumuid said “that’s OK”.

“There can be a balance over a week or over a month. Not every day has to be perfect,” she said.

“And while TV watching is usually always bad, some of the interactive games and web stuff they do are actually beneficial for academic performance.

“We want kids who are happy and adjusted.”

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