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Television Watching and Childhood Obesity

You may think a couple of hours of TV after school is harmless to your child, but you might be mistaken.


Because TV watching detracts from the time a child could spend in active play and exercise and encourages high-calorie snacking, a few hours of TV are far from harmless and may actually be contributing to rising rates of childhood obesity.

Using information from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination survey, public health experts examined the relationship between television watching, energy (calorie) intake, physical activity, and obesity in 4,069 U.S. boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 16 years. The children and teens who participated in the study answered questions about physical activity, hours of television watched, and diet. Height and weight also were measured.

Almost half of the children watched more than 2 hours of television per day. Gender and race/ethnicity were related to the amount of TV watched: 38% of boys watched more than 2 hours per day, compared with 48% of girls. Sixty-five percent of black and 53% of Mexican-American children watched 3 or more hours of TV each day, compared with 37% of non-Hispanic white children. In addition, 17% of black children, 9% of Mexican-American children, and 6% of non-Hispanic white children watched 5 or more hours of TV a day.

As hours of television watched increased, prevalence of obesity rose. Obesity rates remained lowest among children who watched an hour or less of TV per day. The number of calories consumed was also associated with the hours of television watched. Girls who watched an hour or less of TV per day ate an average of about 1,845 calories per day, whereas girls who watched 5 or more hours of TV per day consumed an average of 2,016 calories per day.

What This Means to You: Children who are overweight are at higher risk for developing high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep disorders, and other weight-related problems. The surgeon general recommends that children and teens participate in aerobic physical activity vigorous enough to make them sweat or breathe hard at least five times per week. Encourage your child to turn off the TV and get moving, and set a healthy example by planning active, not sedentary, family activities.

Source: Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, March 2001

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