Too Much Screen Time Linked To Childhood Obesity

The debate over how much TV time is bad for children has been batted around for decades. Now there are statistics that make it difficult to ignore the impact TV watching is having on American children. According to Jessica Kelman of Great Schools, this data may prove that television viewing can cause more damage that we ever knew. Stats come from a survey by Statistic Brain:

  • The average person watches nine years of television during his life.
  • An American student spends 900 hours in school a year, but spend 1,200 hours a year watching the boob TV
  • 54% of children from ages 4-6 said they would rather watch TV than spend time with their fathers.

New research has shown that there is a link between having a television set in your child's room and your child's academic success and their physical health. It's estimated that 71% of American youth has a TV in their rooms. A study in 2003 reported that 59% of children had TVs in their rooms, the majority of whom were boys, minorities, and children living in low-income families.

The follow-up research from JAMA Network, taken two years after the initial study and then four years after the study, at the two-year mark revealed that bedroom TV-watching had links to being overweight and to long-term weight gain. At four years, BMI had increased even more. An interesting note is that the obesity was not linked with time spent watching TV, it was the simple presence of the TV in the child's room.

Some of the reasons this is true might be:

  • junk food commercials
  • disrupted sleep patterns
  • sedentary lifestyle
  • isolation

A private TV's connection to childhood obesity, the researchers observed, suggests that removing TV's from kids' rooms may be "an important step in our nation's fight against child obesity."

Older studies found these risks linked to bedroom TVs:

  • less reading
  • lowered test grades
  • sleep issues
  • a predisposition to smoking
And, yes, tablets, iPads, smartphones, can all have the same impact as a television.
Katherine K. Dahlsgaard, Ph.D. agrees in her article for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Dahlsgaard is the lead ssychologist for the Anxiety Behaviors Clinic at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She says:
Even without proof of cause and effect, it seems that a TV in the bedroom doesn't lead to anything helpful for children. It's one more distraction from keeping them from sleeping and this new study suggests that it may be linked to a higher BMI.
So, for those parents who do not want to throw this baby out with the bathwater, are there statistics to back up how much screen time might be safe for kids? Simon Jary, writing for PC Advisor, reports some interesting answers. The first of which is that parents now have to be concerned about their children's health, not just their children's minds. "The more screen time the more medical issues.", says Dr. Aric Sigman, a psychologist in the UK. He adds that in a 2013 US Department of Health study it was concluded that children aged two and under should have no television at all. Children over that age should have no more than two hours a day.

"Dopamine is produced when we see something that is interesting or new, but it also has a second function. Dopamine is also the neurochemical involved in most addictions – it's the reward chemical.

"There are concerns among neuroscientists that this dopamine being produced every single day for many years – through, for example, playing computer games – may change the reward circuitry in a child's brain and make them more dependent on screen media," warns Sigman.

Sigman is also concerned about the lack of face-to-face interaction with others that comes about as a result of hours being spent in front of a "screen" of any kind. He advises that parents emphasize physical activity; emphasize social activity; and encourage hobbies.

05 28, 2014
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