Growing Up – and Growing Obese – with TV

Televisions in child bedrooms increases risk of obesity and cardiometabolic risk

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) More than 70 percent of children and teenagers have TVs in their bedrooms. But just having a TV in their rooms puts them at higher risk for becoming fat.

That's the finding of a new study that compared children's TV habits with their body fat. Researchers also looked at the children's risk for developing heart or metabolism conditions.

The research showed having a TV in the bedroom increased the children's health risk and obesity risk.

The effect was even more significant than even watching five hours or more of TV each day.

"Keep TV out of kids' bedrooms."

The study, led by Amanda E. Staiano, PhD, of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, aimed to find out whether having a television in the bedroom played any part in children's weight.

The researchers assessed 369 children and teens, aged 5 to 18, by measuring their waist circumference, resting blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar, body fat percentage, amount of abdominal fat and fasting triglycerides (lipids).

The researchers assigned the children a level of risk for heart or metabolic problems (such as diabetes) based on whether they had three or more risk factors from those measurements.

Then they compared the children with and without cardiometabolic (heart and metabolic) risk according to their television viewing habits. They also compared the children body fat levels with the amount of TV they watched.

Information regarding television watching was based on the amount of viewing time reported by the children (with parents' help when necessary) in a questionnaire. One question also asked whether they had a TV in their bedrooms.

The researchers took into account the children's gender, age, race/ethnicity, physical activity level and diet in their analysis.

The researchers found that children with a television in their bedroom were about twice as likely to have a range of higher risk factors for obesity.

For example, they were twice as likely to have a high waist circumference, a higher fat mass and higher levels of fat under their skin.

Children with TVs in their bedrooms were also twice as likely to have high triglycerides and three times as likely to have a higher level of cardiometabolic risk. This means they are at a higher risk for developing heart conditions or metabolic conditions like diabetes.

Children who reported watching TV five or more hours a day were also twice as likely to have high levels of abdominal fat.

Dr. Joshua Evans, pediatrician at DMC Children's Hospital of Michigan (part of the Detroit Medical Center) and assistant professor of pediatrics, Wayne State University School of Medicine and dailyRx Contributing Expert, said "This study continues to reinforce the damaging effect that any media exposure (television, computer use) can have on decreasing activity levels and leading to the steady increase that we see in childhood obesity.

In practice, having a television in the room certainly affects most of the patients I work with. There is also a concern over a parent having no input on what their child is watching when they have a television in their own room. Disregarding any violent or sexual content exposure, there is the reality of commercials which perpetuate unhealthy food choices that we know influences childhood and adolescent eating behaviors." 

According to background research in the paper, about 70 percent of children in the US have a television in their bedroom, and the average child aged 8 to 18 watches about 4.5 hours of TV each day.

Meanwhile, about one third of American children between the ages of 6 and 19 qualify as obese.

"There was a stronger association between having a TV in the bedroom versus TV viewing time, with the adiposity [fat] and health outcomes," the authors wrote. "A bedroom TV may create additional disruptions to healthy habits, above and beyond regular TV viewing."

In other words, televisions in the bedrooms may influence other unhealthy habits.

"For instance, having a bedroom TV is related to lower amounts of sleep and lower prevalence of regular family meals, independent of total TV viewing time," the authors wrote. "Both short sleep duration and lack of regular family meals have been related to weight gain and obesity."

The study was published December 11 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The study was funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the American Heart Association and a Nutrition Obesity Research Center grant. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 19, 2012
Last Updated:
December 21, 2012