Study: Watching TV as a Child Linked to Adult Health Problems

2 min read

People who watched a lot of television as a child often have health problems in adulthood, such as high blood pressure and obesity, says a study conducted over 50 years and published in the online journal Pediatrics.

Starting in the early 1970s, researchers at University of Otago in New Zealand asked parents of more than 800 children to record how much time the kids watched TV at ages 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, and 15. The average viewing time was two hours per weekday. Participants were tracked to age 45.

“Those who watched the most had a higher risk of metabolic syndrome in adulthood,” Professor Bob Hancox of the school’s Department of Preventive and Social Medicine said in a news release

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat, and abnormal cholesterol levels that lead to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, the news release said.

The finding held true even when sex, childhood body mass index, and a family's economic situation were factored in, the study said. Boys watched more TV than girls and the problems of metabolic syndrome were found more often in men than women. 

The research didn’t prove that watching TV actually caused those health problems in adulthood, but the authors said the two could be connected because children who watch TV may get less physical activity and may have unhealthy eating habits because they see ads for junk food.

The findings are valid despite a much higher number of screens being available today. 

“The alarming thing about this is that what do we see happening now versus 45 years ago?” Colleen Kraft, MD, a pediatrician and professor at University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine who was not involved in the study, told U.S. News and World Report. “Kids on phones, on tablets, on computers, on screens for a lot of the day who are really not active. So, we're looking at an avalanche of health problems going forward if we don't focus on kids and give them opportunities to be active.”