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Try Turning Off the Television
You're all no doubt more than familiar with the two main strategies for weight loss: reducing the number of calories you eat and increasing the number of calories you burn. Obesity researchers are also looking at ways to decrease the amount of time people spend in sedentary behaviors (activities that don't significantly increase the number of calories you burn much above your baseline resting state). 

How much television do your kids watch?
A recent study from the University of Missouri followed 8,000 children from kindergarten through third grade (J Am Diet Assoc 2007;107(1):53-61). The children were participants in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study - Kindergarten Cohort, a sample of children from schools nationwide who entered kindergarten in 1989. About 48% were boys, 52% girls.

Why you eat more while watching TV
Several years ago I reported on two studies that showed that both adults (Bite, 11/07/06) and children (Bite, 02/14/07) tend to eat more when they are distracted, whether by music or television. While there are several other studies supporting the conclusion that people do eat more while watching television, the question remains as to exactly why.


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Children's Weight and "Media Time"

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued national guidelines recommending that parents limit media time (including television or computer use) for their children over two years of age to just 1 to 2 hours per day of quality programming. While previous studies link childhood obesity with television and video watching, few of those studies actually focus on the AAP's recommended cut-off times. Nor have those studies sought to link computer use with childhood obesity.

In a recent study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, researchers at the University of Washington utilized data from a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and completed in 2002. Among the data collected were height and weight, body fat measurements using calipers, time spent watching television, and time spent using the computer.

The researchers looked at the data from all of the children in the study between 2 and 5 years of age. Since the AAP's guidelines suggested 2 hours or less per day of media time, the data was split into two levels: 2 hours or less of video or television time per day, or more than 2 hours per day. As they further theorized that preschool age children were likely to use the computer very little, they focused on simply whether the children used the computer at all.

The childrens' weight status (normal weight for age and gender, overweight, or at risk of overweight) was then analyzed and correlated with their video or television time and whether or not they used the computer. Interestingly, over 30% of the children watched over two hours of television, and those children who watched more television were more likely to have families whose incomes were below the national poverty line.

Further, those children who watched more than two hours of television or videos were 34% more likely to be overweight or at risk of overweight. Their body fat tended to be higher, as well. Interestingly, those few children who used the computer at all tended to have higher body fat regardless of their weight status.

What this means for you

This study supports others that link television and video watching with higher weight in children, and it's certainly cautionary about computer use in children. Instead of parking the family in front of the television, take twenty or thirty minutes each day and take a walk together. It'll be good exercise for the whole family.

First posted: October 31, 2007