Watching TV puts kids in obesity hot seat

Simply switching on the TV could be contributing to childhood obesity more than parents realise, research shows.

A new study from the University of South Australia has found that watching TV is more strongly associated with obesity in both boys and girls than any other type of sitting activity.

The study investigated the impact of different sitting behaviours – watching television, playing video games, playing computer, sitting down to eat and travelling in a car.

UniSA researcher Dr Margarita Tsiros says the study provides new insights about the impact of sedentary behaviours on children.

“It’s no surprise that the more inactive a child is, the greater their risk of being overweight,” Dr Tsiros said.

“But not all sedentary behaviours are created equal when it comes to children’s weight. This research suggests that how long children spend sitting may be less important that what they do when they are sitting.

“For instance, some types of sitting are more strongly associated with body fat in children than others, and time spent watching TV seems to be the worst culprit.”

The study assessed the sedentary behaviours of 234 Australian children aged 10-13 years who either were of a healthy weight (74 boys, 56 girls) or classified as obese (56 boys, 48 girls).

It found that, excluding sleep, children spent more than 50 per cent of their day sitting, including 2.5 – 3 hours television viewing each day.

Dr Tsiros said the study also found differences between the sitting behaviours of boys and girls.

“Boys not only watched more TV than girls – an extra 37 minutes per day – but also spent significantly more time playing video games,” Dr Tsiros said.

“Video gaming and computer use are popular past times, but our data suggests these activities may be linked with higher body fat in boys.

“Boys who are sitting for longer than 30 minutes may also have higher body fat, so it’s important to monitor their screen and sitting time and ensure they take regular breaks.”

Dr Tsiros said setting children up on a path towards a healthy weight was extremely important.

“An overweight child is more likely to grow up into an overweight adult, so the importance of tackling unhealthy behaviours in childhood is critical,” she said.

Obese children have an increased risk of developing serious health disorders, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol.

“They may also experience reduced wellbeing, social and self-esteem issues, along with pain and difficulties with movement and activity,” she said.

“By understanding children’s sedentary behaviours – especially those that are placing our kids at risk – we’ll ensure they stay on a better path towards a healthier weight.”