Over the past three decades obesity rates in children have doubled. They have quadrupled in adolescents. Recent studies show that overweight tendencies in children may be directly related to a TV in the child’s bedroom. About 71 percent of children aged 8 to 18 have a television in the bedroom.
One study, published March 3 in JAMA Pediatrics, studied the theory that a television in the bedroom could have a negative effect on a child’s weight because of the amount of time spent either watching TV or gaming, rather than in physical activities. As expected, results of the study demonstrated that children with a television in their bedroom spent more time watching or gaming than did kids without bedroom TVs.
The study used telephone surveys of 6,522 boys and girls, from age 10 to 14. At the beginning of the study 59.1 percent of participants reported having a TV in their bedroom. Bedroom TVs were more common for boys, and also in lower-income families and with lower parental education levels.
Height, weight and body mass index were reported at two and four years.
Results showed that having a TV in the bedroom was linked to an excess Body Mass Index (BMI) at two years after the study baseline, and a BMI increase of 0.75 at four years. This equates to a gain of approximately one extra pound per year.
Study leader Dr. Diane Gilbert-Diamond of the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, suggests removing TVs from the bedroom as an important step in the childhood obesity fight. She says that removing the TV works better than just limiting screen time.
There is also a question as to whether other electronic devices such as laptops and smartphones may also contribute to weight gain.
Another study published in July, 2012, by researchers at the University of Alberta suggested that kids who have televisions, computers, and other electronics in their bedrooms are 28 percent more likely to become overweight and 30 percent more likely to become obese.
Overweight is defined as weighing more than what is considered normal for a person’s height, sex, and age. Obesity is marked by an excessive, generalized amount of stored body fat.
The Alberta study relied on the REAL Kids Alberta survey. It looked at 3,400 fifth-graders, who were questioned about bedtime sleep habits and whether they used electronics before bed. 50 percent of the fifth-graders said they had a TV, DVD player, or video game in their bedroom. 21 percent had a computer, 17 percent had a cellphone, and 5 percent had all three.
57 percent of the surveyed children said they would use these devices in their rooms after they were supposed to be sleeping.
Results of the study indicate that children with one electronic device available at bedtime were 1.47 times more likely to be overweight than a child without an electronic device in their bedroom. Kids with three or more devices in their bedroom were 2.57 times more likely to be overweight.
In somewhat contrasting results, a University of Queensland, Australia, study determined that video games might actually help overweight children achieve a healthy weight by increasing physical activity.
The study looked at children aged 8 to 12 with BMI over the 85th percentile. Their height and weight were measured at the beginning of the study and at eight and 16 weeks. The children were randomly assigned to a control group, who received a program of nutrition, weight management, and activity goals, or a program-plus-gaming group who received the same program with the addition of active gaming. Children were allowed to use the games as often as they wanted.
At the beginning of the study the children in the gaming group had a mean of 25.3 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. The program-only group had 26.9 minutes per day. By week 16 the gaming group was up to 32.7 minutes per day while the control group remained at 26 minutes.
Children in the active gaming group also lost weight, going from a mean of 66.9 percent overweight to 56.0 percent overweight by week 16, a 10.9 percentage point loss. Children in the program-only group also lost weight, but only 5.5 percentage points reduction at 16 weeks.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against TVs in kids’ bedrooms, as they may disrupt sleep patterns. Greater amounts of sleep are clearly associated with healthier diet choices and more physical activities. Two-thirds of today’s children are not getting enough sleep. Adequate sleep plays a major part in academics, mood, and health outcomes, including weight management.
These studies would lead one to the conclusion that having a TV in children’s bedrooms is a definite contributor to obesity, as well as other health and developmental problems.
By Beth A. Balen