For kids as young as kindergarten-age, watching even a small amount of TV daily is linked to obesity and overweight, finds a new study. Kids who watched an hour of television a day were more likely to be overweight or obese than kids who watched less than an hour of TV per day.
Presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting, the study looked at data from more than 10,000 kindergarteners and followed them through first grade.
Kindergarten students in the U.S. spent an average of 3.3 hours watching TV every day, the study finds, and that screen time comes at a high price. Kids who watched 1-2 hours of TV per day had an increased odds of obesity 47% above the group that watched less than an hour a day, and an increased odds of overweight 43%.
“Television is a very passive activity,” says study author Mark D. DeBoer, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Virginia. Combine the ill effects of sitting with TV-related behaviors like more snacking and exposure to commercials selling unhealthy food, and the effects can add up.
It took very little TV time to have a big effect on weight; DeBoer says he didn’t see much difference in the weights of children who watched 1-2 hours a day versus those who watched more than two hours.
That’s likely because kids miss out on physical activity when they’re plopped in front of the tube. “In this age range, when you’re not sitting and doing something, you’re running around,” DeBoer says. “As much as they don’t go out and jog, kindergarteners are still at an age when they are frequently, if not constantly, on the move.”
DeBoer says he hopes his study can help shift guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which currently recommends that children spend no more than two hours a day watching screens. Instead, he says, parents should be encouraged to cut TV time even more and replace it with activities like reading to their children, going to museums and visiting other educational destinations. “This may be a step toward changing that recommendation in the future,” he says.