What do you think of when you hear the term “couch potato?” Most picture a rather slovenly individual spending hours in front of the television, usually accompanied by junk food. The person in that imaginary image is probably overweight, too. Can kids be couch potatoes? How much time in front of the tv would qualify? The American Academy of Pediatrics has set the recommended screen time for children at less than two hours every day. But a new study finds that an hour of television each day can put a kindergartener at risk for being overweight or obese.
Kindergarten children who watched television for more than one hour a day were 52% more likely to be overweight than their schoolmates who watched less TV, researchers said. The kids who spent at least an hour each day in front of the boob tube were also 72% more likely to be obese.
These figures are based on data from 12,650 children from around the country who started kindergarten in the fall of 2011 and were enrolled in a study run by the U.S. Department of Education. Researchers measured the height and weight of each young student (which were used to calculate their body mass index), and parents were asked how much TV time their kids got.
The average amount of time this nationally representative group of kindergartners spent watching TV was 3.3 hours. When the researchers did their statistical analysis to link time spent watching TV with weight, they controlled for factors that might have skewed the results, like gender, race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.
The researchers also took into account the number of hours the kids spent using computers, but it turned out that had no correlation with the children’s BMI.
One year after they entered the study, 10,853 of the children had their height and weight measured again, and their parents updated the researchers on their television-viewing habits. The results were once again striking: Compared to the kids who watched less than an hour of TV per day, those who watched an hour or more were 39% more likely to become overweight between kindergarten and first grade. They also were 86% more likely to become obese during that time.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children limit their total screen time — including time in front of the TV — to less than two hours per day. But these results suggest their advice may be overly generous.
“Given the data presented in this study, the AAP may wish to lower its recommended TV viewing allowances,” Dr. Mark DeBoer, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of Virginia, said in a statement.
Kids love television. That’s no secret. There are so many great and educational shows today for kindergarten kids. FoodFacts.com knows that there’s plenty of quality viewing available. But the quality of the show has nothing to do with the effects of our kids sitting in front of a TV for hours. We found it interesting that computer habits (computers are still a screen) had no correlation to weight gain and obesity. Kids aren’t eating in front of the computer and they’re certainly not drinking anything near a keyboard. But they are while watching their favorite shows. The good news here is that parents are in control of their kindergarteners viewing habits and CAN make a big difference. Get them outside. Play a board game. Read them a book. Let them help in the kitchen. Let’s help our children view television as one of a variety of choices for how to spend their time … not the preferable one.