MONDAY, June 14, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Children whose parents set limits on the amount of time spent watching television actually watch less TV, a new study finds.
Moreover, children who are physically active tend to spend less time in front of the tube, the researchers added.
"The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends up to two hours of TV for children over 2 years of age," said lead researcher Susan A. Carlson, an epidemiologist at the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, which is part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We found that when children and parents agreed on the rules they were least likely to exceed the limit," she said.
Carlson noted that limiting TV time is important, because watching too much TV or spending too much time on the computer or playing video games is associated with an increased risk for obesity, alcohol abuse, early sexual practice, negative body concept, eating disorders, aggressive behavior and doing poorly in school.
Children's TV time should be spent watching "quality programs," Carlson said. "Children under 2 shouldn't be watching TV at all," she added.
Some of these problems may not be related to the time spent watching TV, but rather to the content of the programs, she noted.
The report was released online June 14 in advance of publication in the July print edition of Pediatrics.
For the study, Carlson's team surveyed the parents and children in 5,685 homes, asking about how much time children spent watching TV and whether there were rules limiting TV time.
In addition, the researchers asked about how physically active the children were.
In total, the study authors interviewed 7,415 children aged 9 to 15 years.
The researchers found that 27 percent of the children watched more than the recommended two hours a day of TV. Boys, blacks and poorer children were more likely to watch more than the recommended amount of TV than others, Carlson's group noted.
But, children who said that their parents set limits on TV watching were less likely to watch more than their parents allowed, the researchers found.
In addition, children who were physically active either in organized sports or in free-time play were less likely to watch more than a couple of hours of TV a day, Carlson's team found.
Carlson thinks parents are role models in both watching TV and physical activity. "Parents can be the best role model," she said.
"Parents need to limit the amount of their children's screen time and they should be encouraging their kids to participate in physical activity," Carlson said.
Jennifer Manganello, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy, Management and Behavior at the School of Public Health at the University at Albany in New York, said:"Given findings from this study and the fact that limiting media use for youth is recommended by experts, parents may want to consider rules they can establish to reduce time spent with screen media as well as other strategies that can decrease media use, such as removing a TV from a childs bedroom."
Dr. Tracie Miller, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said that "parental regulations and influences are always powerful for children."
The question is how this can make a dent in the obesity epidemic among children, she said.
Miller noted that the obese and overweight children she treats usually have one parent who is obese or overweight. In addition, physically unfit children tend to have physically unfit parents, she said.
"Taking time to be physically active with your kids is an important thing for me as a parent and for my children as well," Miller said.
Miller tells her overweight patients that it is not their problem, it's the family's problem. "It won't work if you treat a child in isolation," she said.
"If the parent is watching 12 hours of TV a day and you are yelling at your kids to go out and play, while you're watching TV with a bag of chips in your face, it will never work," she said.
Miller admits that there is a high failure rate. "There are successes, but it takes a lot of work," she said.
To get kids to lose the weight requires parents to turn off the TV and computer and get active with their children, and doctors and other health professionals can help by coaching children and their parents to stay with a program, Miller said.
For more information on children's TV habits, visit the Nemours Foundation.