Kindergartners who watch as little as an hour of TV a day are at a greater risk for being overweight or obese compared to kids who watched TV for less than 60 minutes, according to a new study. The research was presented April 26 at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in San Diego.
Previous studies have provided evidence that children who watch a lot of television are at a higher risk for being overweight. No studies, however, have explored the link between TV watching and obesity in children as young as kindergarten age.
For their study, researchers from the University of Virginia analyzed data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey involving 11,113 children who were in kindergarten during the 2011 to 2012 school year. Information collected from the kids’ parents included the number of hours the children watched television on weekdays and weekends and how often they used computers. The children’s height and weight were also noted.
Follow-up a year later showed that the kindergartners watched an average 3.3 hours of TV a day. Findings indicated kids in both kindergarten and the first grade who watched TV one to two hours or more daily had significantly higher body mass indexes (BMIs) than those who watched 30 minutes to 60 minutes a day.
“An hour is not that much time,” lead author Mark DeBoer, MD, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Virginia, told HealthDay. “In that sense, I was surprised.”
DeBoer and his team found that young children who viewed as little as one hour of TV daily were 50 percent to 60 percent more likely to be overweight and 58 percent to 73 percent more likely to be obese compared to those who watched less than an hour of TV. No link was found between time spent on a computer and an increased risk for obesity.
Study findings suggested the more hours spent in front of a TV, the higher the likelihood for weight gain. Contributing factors linked to TV-related behaviors included snacking and exposure to commercials for unhealthy foods. And then there is the lack of activity.
“Television [watching] is a very passive activity,” DeBoer told TIME. “In this age range, when you’re not sitting and doing something, you’re running around. As much as they don’t go out and jog, kindergartners are still at an age when they are frequently, if not constantly, on the move,” he added.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) currently recommends no screen time for children under the age of 2, and limiting entertainment screen time for older children to less than one to two hours a day. DeBoer contends that even that may be too much.
“Given the data presented in this study, the AAP may wish to lower its recommended TV viewing allowances,” DeBoer said in a news release.