More Americans are now choosing screen time over physical fitness

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Many Americans are not meeting physical activity guidelines and past theories point to a lack of free time as the primary cause. A new study, however, assures this is not the case.

According to researchers at the RAND Corporation, a US-based nonprofit think tank, the culprit for insufficient physical activity could be the excessive amount of screen time, which includes watching television, computer usage, and handheld electronics.

To reach this finding, as published in Preventing Chronic Disease, researchers went through the data of 32,048 people from the American Time Use Survey, a measurement tool conducted by the United States Census Bureau. The survey categorizes activities, like socializing, entertainment, sports, travel time, and religious activities, during a 24-hour period.

“We analyzed data from the American Time Use Survey, 2014 through 2016, with 32,048 respondents aged 15 years or older, categorizing every activity during a 24-hour period,” said Deborah Cohen, co-author of the study.

“Working in the labor market, education (unless only for personal interest), household work and home production (cooking, cleaning, child care, shopping), or self-care (sleeping, eating, grooming) are not free time,” Cohen explained.

Essentially, the data was stratified by health status, sociodemographic traits, and body mass index. Researchers utilized Stata version 15.0 in their analysis phase.

By the conclusion of the study, it could be determined that, on average, Americans had over 5 hours of free time each day; this is relevant for both men and women.

Of both genders, men were more likely to report free time than women, with most of it implicating extensive screen time, the study indicated. “Men reported about 11% more free time than women did, but men reported about 20% more screen time than women did,” said Cohen.

Furthermore, socioeconomic status also played a role in the lack of physical activity and increase in screen time. Based on Cohen’s findings, “Compared with those with a higher income and a college education, those with income below 185% of federal poverty guidelines and those with a high school education reported more free time but spent more time on television, movies, and other screen time and less on physical activity.”

“Time use data provide a way to understand how physical activity fits into a person’s day,” Cohen stated. “We analyzed the ATUS data set to test whether free time was associated with physical activity.”

“Lack of free time is not responsible for low levels of leisure time physical activity at the population level,” Cohen concluded.