This morning, Fast Company sponsored a question and answer event with Jose Ferreira, the founder of Knewton, a company that wants to place education online. In a tweet promoting the event, Fast Company brags that, in the future, 25% of educational time in Kindergarten through 12th grade will be spent purely online.
If students spend 7 hours per day, 5 days per week, in school, that’s 35 hours spent in school each week for K-12 students. 25 percent of that is 8 hours and 45 minutes per week spent online, with students learning by interacting with a screen.
This proposal for future commitment to on-screen time in education for children ought to be understood in terms of the results of a scientific study that were released today. The study examined the relationship between the amount of “screen time” activities engaged in by children and Body Mass Index, a measurement of obesity. The research concludes that amount of screen time is positively associated with degree of obesity.
It isn’t surprising news. People have long suspected that the more time kids sit in front of screens, the fatter they get. However, the research is important in documenting the association, especially given that people’s knowledge of the health risks of screen time is not leading to behavioral change. New methods of increasing habits that contribute to physical fitness are called for – education isn’t enough.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued a recommendation that parents limit their children to just 2 hours per day in front of electronic screens. That’s a total of 14 hours per week.
If Knewton has its way, and 25 percent of in-school time for children is spent on screens, then that leaves only 5 hours and 15 minutes left for at-home on-screen time for kids, if they are to follow pediatricians’ recommendations. That’s just 45 minutes per day.
Given that childhood obesity is already a serious problem, and most parents are unlikely to limit their children to just 45 minutes of screen time at home per day, it’s fair to conclude that Knewton’s proposals of increasing screen-based learning in schools will contribute to an increase in childhood obesity and the crippling and deadly diseases that result from it.
It’s telling that Knewton’s web site doesn’t mention obesity very often, except in study materials for the GMAT that warn, “Obesity is the most urgent nutrition-related health problem in America today.” Premed student, heal thyself.
All this leaves me wondering just what the 3 trillion dollar industry that FastCompany refers to might be. I can see many possibilities:
- Diabetes counseling
- Amputation clinics
- Plus size furniture
- Bariatric surgery