Too Much Tube Time Makes for Tubby Tots

Kids with a TV in their bedroom are even more likely to be overweight

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HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, June 3, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Coach potatoes who love to plop in front of the TV run the risk of packing on the pounds.

It turns out there are crib potatoes, too. And they face a similar problem.

A study of almost 2,800 kids who were 1 to 4 years old found they watched TV for 15 hours a week, on average -- far more than is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

What's more troubling, all that television greatly increased the kids' risk of being overweight -- especially if the TV was in their bedroom.

The study, which is published in the June issue of Pediatrics, found that a child's risk of being overweight increased by 6 percent for every hour of television he watched.

And if he had a TV in his bedroom, his risk of being overweight jumped to 30 percent for every hour of television viewing, making the location of the TV more significant than the act of watching television.

"It's hard to sort out why that's so, whether kids are watching television that their parents don't know about, or whether there's something about watching television alone," says the study's lead author, Dr. Barbara Dennison.

"It's hard to speculate, but it certainly doesn't seem like having a television in the bedroom is a good idea," adds Dennison, an associate professor of clinical pediatrics at Columbia University in New York City.

The AAP recommends no television for children under 2, and no more than two hours a day for older children. It also urges that parents do not put televisions in their children's bedrooms.

Dr. Susan Buttross, a member of the AAP committee that wrote the TV-viewing guidelines for kids, says, "Parents don't really know how much television time is really going on in their children's bedrooms, and don't know what their children are watching."

For the study, Dennison and her colleagues asked the parents of 2,761 children how much TV their kids watched, and compared those results with the weights of their children. The study participants were enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) at 49 centers throughout New York state. WIC is a nutrition program for low-income families.

Here's what the researchers learned:

  • 80 percent of the 1-year-olds watched some television during the week, and almost all the 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds watched some television.

  • 25 percent of the 1-year-olds watched more than two hours a week, as did almost 50 percent of the 2- and 3-year-olds, and 57 percent of the 4-year-olds.

  • 36 percent of the children had a Body Mass Index (BMI) that indicated they were overweight.

Studies have shown that low-income, less-educated families tend to weigh more and to watch more television than more affluent families, Dennison says. So the study was adjusted for maternal education as well as the mother's BMI. This way, the findings have significance for all economic groups, she says.

"It was a shock to me that 40 percent of this group had televisions in their bedrooms, and higher income kids are more likely to have televisions in their bedrooms," Dennison says, adding, "obesity is affecting all economic and social groups."

Dennison says her findings show that parents should pay attention to their child's television watching at an early age.

"Kids 15 and 16 months old are already watching TV -- these programs are geared to young kids. And they're not only watching but eating," she says.

Dennison says children under 2 shouldn't be watching television -- "kids learn better from interacting with parents or other kids."

But, if they've already started the TV habit, parents can improve the experience.

"Watch television with them, and don't eat in front of the TV," Dennison says.

What To Do

Visit the American Academy of Pediatrics to view its guidelines for children and television watching. For an in-depth report on the growing problem of childhood obesity, check Pediatrics.

SOURCES: Barbara Dennison, M.D., pediatrician, Bassett Healthcare, Cooperstown, N.Y., and associate professor of clinical pediatrics, Columbia University, New York City; Susan Buttross, M.D., member, public education committee, American Academy of Pediatrics, Elk Grove Village, Ill., and chief, division of Child Development and Behavorial Pediatrics, University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson; June 2002 Pediatrics

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