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Obesity Blame Game: Is Weekend TV the Culprit?

Early Childhood TV and Parents' TV Habits Linked to Obesity
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 20, 2005 -- The more weekend TV a young child watches, the heavier the child becomes as an adult, a British study shows.

That shouldn't be too much of a surprise. There are plenty of studies showing that too much time in front of a video screen leads to too many inches behind the belt.

But you can't blame it all on the kids. A second study -- of Pennsylvania schoolgirls -- shows that kids who watch too much TV have parents who watch too much TV.

"They are, in a sense, learning that TV is not only a normal part of life, but it is their chief form of recreation," writes University of Colorado pediatrician Reginald Washington, MD, in an editorial accompanying the studies. The studies, and the Washington editorial, appear in the October issue of The Journal of Pediatrics.

Normal TV Watching = Too Much TV Watching

The American Academy of Pediatrics says kids should watch no more than two hours of "quality programming" per day -- and then only after they're 2 years old. And, these experts say, kids shouldn't have a TV in their bedroom.

Parents must not have seen this news on TV. The typical American child watches 2.5 hours of TV every day -- and 38% spend more than three hours in front of the boob tube (not counting video-game and computer time). Forty percent of U.S. kids under age 5 have a TV in their bedrooms.

Weekend Watching as Kids, Weight Watching as Adults

Fans of long-term studies may already know about the 1970 British Birth Cohort. Data have been gathered on every kid born in the U.K. during the week of April 5-11, 1970. Some of that data related to TV watching and weight.

Contrary to some earlier data, weekday TV didn't affect kids' weight. But weekend watching did. The more weekend TV a child watched at age 5, the heavier that child was at age 30, report Russell M. Viner, MB, PhD, and colleagues at University College, London.

"Each additional hour of TV watched on weekends at [age] 5 years increased risk of adult obesity by 7%," Viner and colleagues write.

Parenting Risk Factors

SUNY Albany researcher Kirsten Krahnstoever Davison, PhD, led a study of 187 9-year-old girls and their parents in central Pennsylvania. They tracked down 173 of these families when the girls were 11 years old.

As national averages predict, 40% of the girls watched more than two hours of TV a day. And it was easy to tell which girls were watching the most TV.

"At age 9 and 11, girls watched significantly more TV when their parents reported higher levels of TV viewing," Davison and colleagues write. "Furthermore, girls watched significantly more TV when their parents relied on TV as a leisure activity, reported watching television as a family, and did not limit their access to TV."

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