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Children's Health

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Too Much TV May Raise Kids’ Future Heart Risk

Study: Kids With Lots of Screen Time Have Narrow Arteries in Eyes That May Indicate Heart Risk
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

April 20, 2011 -- The eyes are said to be windows to the soul, but a new study suggests they may also provide a glimpse into a child’s future risk for heart disease.

Researchers in Australia found that 6- and 7-year-olds who spent the most time in front of TVs or computer screens had narrower eye arteries in the back of their eyes than those children who spent less time.

Also, children who spent the most time in outdoor sporting activities had wider eye arteries compared to those who participated in outdoor sports the least.

Studies in adults suggest that narrowed blood vessels in the eyes indicate increased cardiovascular risk since they are part of the brain’s vascular system and respond as other vessels do to stress and disease.

By analyzing digital pictures of the blood vessels of the retina, researcher Tien Wong, PhD, and colleagues from the University of Melbourne were able to predict whether adults would develop high blood pressure or heart disease.

In the new study, which appears today in the American Heart Association journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, Wong and researchers from the University of Sydney report a link between total screen time and retinal artery width in children.

TV Time and Blood Vessel Width

The study included close to 1,500 6- and 7-year-olds living in Sydney, Australia.

The children’s parents completed questionnaires designed to assess how much time the kids spent watching TV or using other electronic equipment and how much time they spent engaging in physical pursuits.

Digital photographs were taken in the back of each child’s eyes to determine the width of the retinal blood vessels.

On average, the children spent just under two hours each day watching TV or in front of a computer or gaming device and just 36 minutes engaged in physical activity.

Kids who spent the most time in front of a screen had the narrowest retinal arteries. Those who engaged in the most outdoor physical activity had significantly wider retinal arteries than those who were the least active.

The association remained even after the researchers considered known risk factors for narrowed arteries, including obesity and high blood pressure.

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