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TV habits can predict children's waist size

17th July 2012

Toddlers who watch a lot of television are likely to have larger waistlines and be less physically fit than children who watch less television by the time they get to primary school.

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A new study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity on Sunday, suggests that children who spend more time in front of a screen at a very young age are likely to have worse muscle tone and carry more fat later in childhood.

In a study of 1,314 Canadian children, researchers from measured their television viewing habits at 29 and 53 months.

They then tested the children's physical fitness once they reached the second and fourth years of primary school.

The toddlers watched 8.82 hours of television per week, on average, at the age of 29 months. This amount had increased to 14.85 hours a week when the children reached 53 months. The viewing figures were based on parental estimates of their own children's television consumption.

The study aimed to discover whether the scale of earlier television viewing had a measurable impact on fitness levels in older children.

Participants watched an average of 8.82 hours of television per week at 29 months and 14.85 hours per week at 53 months. Viewing estimates were supplied by the participants’ parents.

Citing a recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics that children's television viewing be limited to two hours a day after the age of two, and as little TV as possible before 2, the study found that the children who had watched more television early in life performed worse in physical tests of "explosive" muscle strength.

The children in the second year of primary education fell behind their peers by 0.361 cm for every hour of television watched weekly at 29 months, and by a further 0.285 cm for every additional hour they had watched between 29 and 53 months.

These measurements were compared with those of their peers who watched very little or no television.

The researchers concluded that while the observed effects of television viewing were small, the cumulative effects were of far greater concern.

Leg strength and waist circumference have far-reaching health implications in children.

Waist circumference is an indicator of intra-abdominal fat, which is an independent predictor of cardiovascular health, metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance.

Explosive leg strength, meanwhile, is linked with less back pain, better cardiovascular health, and decreased mortality.

The researchers also speculated that television can encourage other behaviours that are detrimental to health, like snacking, leading to further weight gain.

And children who see advertisements on television for fast food may be more likely to pick unhealthy snack options, they suggested.

Another recent study also found that television has a negative impact on pre-adolescents.

According to a study at Indiana University, white girls and black boys felt worse about themselves after viewing a number of different types of electronic media.

By contrast, white boys reported that television viewing boosted their self-esteem.

According to study lead author Caroline Fitzpatrick, television is a lifestyle factor that can be altered,

She warned that people should be aware that toddler viewing habits can affect a child's physical health later in their development.


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