Medwire News: Young children who watch too much television are at risk of becoming overweight and unfit as they approach puberty, show US researchers.
"The findings support clinical suspicions that more screen time in general contributes to the rise of excess weight in our population," said senior author Linda Pagani (Université de Montréal, Canada) in a press statement.
An analysis of data from 1314 children who participated in a child development study showed that for each 1-hour increase in weekly television viewing between the ages of 29 months and 53 months, children showed a 0.047 cm increase in waist circumference by the age of 10.
In addition, almost 15% of the children watched over 18 hours of television per week, corresponding to a 0.76 cm increase in waist circumference by the age of 10.
"The bottom line is that watching too much television - beyond the recommended amounts - is not good," said Pagani.
Led by Caroline Fitzpatrick (Université de Montréal), the team also analyzed the children's muscular fitness using a "standing long jump test" where the children jumped into the air from a bent knee position with their feet together.
As reported in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, each hour of weekly television exposure at 29 months corresponded to a 0.361 cm decrease in the distance children could jump by time they were 8 years old.
Furthermore, a 1-hour increase in weekly exposure between 29 and 53 months predicted an additional 0.285 cm reduction in performance.
"This finding is of concern," says the team. "Eventually, reduced muscular strength that persists into adulthood can predict a number of negative health outcomes."
The researchers say that watching more television not only displaces other forms of educational and active pursuits, but also places children at risk of learning inaccurate information about healthy eating. Early interventions aimed at modifying toddlers' viewing habits may contribute to subsequent physical health, they suggest.
"The economics of early intervention suggest that strategies which target viewing habits in infancy, when brain plasticity is high and behaviors and preferences are not yet crystallized, offer fiscal benefits for population health," conclude Fitzpatrick et al.
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