Research Finds That Watching TV Helps Kids Put On Pounds

March 26, 1998

Despite living in a society that is increasingly weight and appearance conscious, many American children may be headed toward sedentary, overweight adulthood. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center have found that as the hours of television watched by American children increases, so does their weight.

As reported in the March 25 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), analysis completed using the results of the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) indicates that one quarter of all U.S. children watch four or more hours of television each day. These children weighed more and were fatter then children who watched fewer than two hours per day.

"The problem stems from the fact that watching television is a sedentary activity but it's much more than that," said Ross E. Andersen, Ph.D., lead researcher on the project. "Children are watching TV, many times eating high calorie/high fat snack foods, and watching commercials for fast food, all of which may encourage more eating."

Of concern was the fact that 42 percent of African-American children routinely watched four or more hours of television each day. Rates of television watching were also high among Mexican-American children. Safety concerns were a likely contributor, since nearly half of U.S. adults believe that their neighborhoods were unsafe for children to play in. Other investigators have noted that African-American and Mexican-American parents were twice as likely to cite neighborhood safety as a reason to keep children indoors.

Of additional concern is the dramatic drop in physical activity among girls as they age from 11 to 16. While this may be due, in part, to changing interests and social demands, the study shows the need for parents and health care providers to encourage all adolescents to remain physically active. The fact that American children are getting heavier is a major public health concern because overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults.

Andersen notes that "more research is clearly indicated to help us identify effective strategies to keep children physically active as they move through adolescence." He encourages all health care providers, teachers, community leaders and parents to look for ways to promote more physical activity among children while reducing sedentary past times.

NHANES III is a survey conducted by the CDC: National Center for Health Statistics and was designed to produce a nationally representative sample of the US population. Over 4,000 children, ages 8-16, took part in the survey, which consisted of an in-home interview and a detailed clinical examination.


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Johns Hopkins Medicine

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