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Less TV May Help Obese Kids Lose Weight

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WebMD Health News

March 21, 2000 (New York) -- Going on a strict television and video game diet may help obese children shed excess weight, according to new research in the March issue of the journal Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

In the two-year study of 90 obese 8- to 12-year-olds and some of their parents, those participants who reduced the time they spent being inactive lost as much weight as those who increased their physical activity.

In the U.S. at least one child in five is overweight, and over the last two decades, this number has increased by more than 50%, according to recent statistics.

"The take-home message is that parent's need to help their children reduce [inactive] behaviors such as by budgeting television time in advance," says study co-author Leonard H. Epstein, PhD, of the departments of pediatrics and social and preventive medicine at the University of Buffalo at the State University of New York. "Parents should also be good role models and provide lots of alternatives to children such as outdoor activities," he tells WebMD. Epstein suggests that all children engage in 60 minutes of physical activity each day.

To arrive at their findings, Epstein and colleagues placed the children and some of their parents in one of four groups that had varying levels of either fewer sedentary -- or inactive -- behaviors or more physical activity. Participants were also put on comprehensive weight loss plans involving diet, education, and positive reinforcement techniques.

All participants completed physical activity questionnaires and were monitored for their body composition and fitness levels at six months, one year, and two years after the beginning of the study.

Overall, there was no difference in the percentages of weight loss among participants in any of the four groups. What's more, all participants showed decreases in body fat and increases in the time spent being physically active, Epstein says

"Television, along with other sedentary behaviors, may contribute to obesity by competing with more physically active behaviors, as well as setting the occasion for eating," he writes. "The results provide experimental evidence that reducing access to sedentary behaviors is an alternative to targeting physical activity in the treatment of childhood obesity."

Unfortunately, "most people have living rooms with huge television sets, hundreds of channels, a state-of-the art sound system, a VCR or a DVD player that are set up to encourage physical inactivity while any exercise equipment is usually hidden in the basement," Epstein says.

Arthur Frank, MD, medical director for the weight management program at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., reviewed the study for WebMD. He says the most important point to take from it is that decreasing inactive behavior and increasing active behavior are the keys to staying fit. Adults have to play an active role in their children's health. Children, particularly overweight children, need good role models, he says.

"One solution is to take an ax to the television, but the trouble is that most adults don't want to do that and you can't say to kids 'no TV, for you, but I can watch as much as I want,'" Frank tells WebMD.

"In order to get kids to change their behaviors, adults must change their behaviors as well. You can't just signal out one person; it's a family effort."

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