Too Much TV 'Turns Young Into Fat Adults'
2004 07 15
By By David Derbyshire
Parents were urged last night to limit children's exposure to television after a study found excessive viewing could damage long-term health.
Children aged between five and 15 who sat in front of a television for more than two hours a day tended to be fatter as adults, have higher cholesterol and smoke more.
Scientists say it is the first study to suggest that "couch potato" viewing habits in childhood could leave lasting health damage.
They warned parents to limit their children's viewing to no more than one to two hours a day. Ideally, children should be rationed to less than an hour a day, they said.
The study, led by Dr Robert Hancox at the University of Otago, New Zealand, involved 1,000 children born in 1972 and 1973 who were followed up until early adulthood.
Dr Hancox, who published the findings in The Lancet, found a clear link between extensive viewing and health risks.
Among the 26-year-olds, 17 per cent of obesity, 15 per cent of raised blood cholesterol, 17 per cent of smoking and 15 per cent of "poor cardiovascular fitness" was attributable to watching more than two hours' television a day in childhood, he said.
No link was found between television viewing and blood pressure.
The associations remained after social background, obesity at the age of five, parental obesity, parental smoking and physical activity at 15 years old were taken into account.
"Although the adult health indicators that we have found to be associated with child and adolescent television viewing are unlikely to result in clinical health problems by the age of 26 years, they are well-established risk factors for cardiovascular illness and death later in life," said Dr Hancox. "Our results suggest that excessive television viewing in young people is likely to have far-reaching consequences for adult health.
"We concur with the American Academy of Paediatrics that parents should limit children's viewing to one to two hours per day; in fact, data suggest that less than one hour a day would be even better."
He acknowledged that parents might find it difficult to impose such a regime. But it was worth the effort because adult regime changes aimed at losing weight, improving fitness, lowering cholesterol levels and giving up smoking were "notoriously difficult to achieve".
In an accompanying article, Dr David Ludwig, from Harvard Medical School in Boston, said that television food advertisements contributed to poor health and should be banned.
"The argument for action is based not only on strong scientific evidence but also on common sense," he said.
"In an era when childhood obesity has reached crisis proportions, the commercial food industry has no business telling toddlers to consume fast food, soft drinks, and high-calorie, low-quality snacks - all products linked to excessive weight gain."
ï British couples spend most of their time together watching television, says research.
People on average spend more than an hour a day with each other in front of the television and half an hour eating together, says a study by the Office for National Statistics.
The Time Use Survey, funded by the Government and the European Union, interviewed 11,700 people in 6,500 households.
It calculated that couples spend an average of two and a half hours - 150 minutes - a day together. This can be roughly broken down into 55 minutes watching television, 30 minutes eating, 24 minutes doing housework and 16 minutes having a social life.
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