Obesity in children is linked to time spent watching television and just one hour can make a huge difference, according to the latest scientific study. Pediatric doctors said, upon learning of the results of the study, that it is up to parents to guide their children to a healthier lifestyle in order to control obesity.
The study, coordinated by the U.S. Department of Education Researchers, evaluated 12,650 kindergartners over a year in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey. The study included their height, weight, amount of television time and computer time for those entering kindergarten during the 2011-12 school year. The results were that children who spent more than an hour a day in front of the television were 52 percent more likely to have a weight issue and 72 percent more likely to have obesity problems. Those who spent more than two hours day watching television were at an even higher risk of being obese, the study suggests. Those involved with the study said the amount of time spent on the computer does not seem to affect weight or body mass index at all.
Doctors speculate factors that connect television watching with obesity include snacking while watching television and a lack of physical activity. The study concluded that children spend an average of 3.3 hours each day watching television. Pediatricians said that is just too much. Dr. Mark DeBoer, a University of Virginia pediatric endocrinologist, said the data suggests the American Academy of Pediatrics should possibly revisit their recommendations for parents and offer lower limits for television viewing. The AAP currently suggests that parents keep television viewing below two hours a day. It also advises that children under two years of age spend no time watching television. While that advice is typically related to things like creative thinking, cognitive function and communication abilities, the link between obesity and time spent watching television makes the suggestion a more valid one.
A gastroenterologist at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, Dr. William Muinos, said a sedentary lifestyle in front of a television may be an indicator of other unhealthy habits, like a bad diet and that can contribute to obesity. That is where parents can make a significant difference, he said. Parents play a large role in establishing behaviors in young children, according to Muinos.
Another study, reported by the International Journal of Obesity, shows that parental influence has a significant impact in young children’s obesity. The study compares children of the 1980s with 300 children born over the past five years. The results concluded that obesity was linked to parents’ influence regarding younger children while teenagers’ weight issues were linked more to the influence of peers.
The study showed that young children who were obese typically had obese parents, verifying the link between parents’ habits and the habits of their children. However, teenagers had a larger obesity problem because rates for the entire group had risen, regardless of home environments or parents’ obesity. The comparison with children raised forty years ago shows a striking fact: 16 percent of kids today are obese compared to 5 percent in the 1980s.
The one who headed the comparison study, Prof. Terence Wilkin of Exeter University, said the study shows there are different reasons for increased obesity in young people today. Those root causes largely relate to the child’s age and he is proposing that there are different solutions for children at different ages.
John Middleton, who is on the Faculty of Public Health, said obesity has become a part of our modern culture because of changes in diet and exercise over the past few decades. He blames sugary drinks for a significant amount of the problem. Middleton said parents must be on guard to assure their children are eating properly and avoiding sugar.
Doctors said parents are the key in dismantling the link between obesity and the amount of time spent watching television. Parents can set controls on television viewing and snacks. One doctor suggested that screen time be a reward for doing something healthy and said parents could tell a child they can watch television only after playing outside or exercising for an hour. Results of the study will be discussed May 3 at the Pediatric Academic Societies’ annual meeting in San. Diego.
By Melody Dareing