BY MARY C. ROCKEY, PH. D., BCBA, DIRECTOR OF PUPIL SERVICES, RANDOLPH CENTRAL SCHOOL
While I usually talk about brain development, one’s physical state is critical for healthy brain development. And, with all the national attention on childhood weight problems, I wanted to round out our discussion on TV with some information on some of the research on the inactivity of our children when watching TV, playing computer games or watching videos.
The National Institute on Media and the Family completed research on media use and children. Their research notes that children, ages 8 to 18, spend more time (44.5 hours per week) in front of computer, television, and game screens than any other activity in their lives except sleeping (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2005).
Approximately 30.3% of children (ages 6 to 11) are overweight and 15.3% are obese. For teens (12 to 19) the rate is almost identical: 33.4% overweight, and 15.5% obese (American Obesity Association, 2006). Further the incidence of Type II diabetes in children, the diabetes linked with obesity, has increased significantly in the past few decades.
In a review of research regarding TV, videos and computer time, some significant results include:
Obesity in children increases the more hours they watch television. These results were reported in a study by researchers at the University at Buffalo, Johns Hopkins University, The National Cancer Institute, and the Centers for Disease Control (Crespo, 2001).
Reducing television viewing and computer use may have an important role in preventing obesity and in lowering BMI in young children, and these changes may be related more to changes in energy intake than to changes in physical activity (Epstein, 2008).
Pre-School children watching more than 2 hours of TV per day are more likely to be overweight than children with limits on media use (Mendoza, 2007).
A study has found that reducing screen time during adolescence and into adulthood is a strategy for reducing obesity (Boone, 2007).
Some kids can lose weight just by reducing the amount of TV they watch, researchers assume this is related to TV-watching eating habits (Singh, 2008).
For every one-hour increase in TV viewing per day, a study found higher intakes of sugar-sweetened beverages (one extra serving per week) and total calories (46.3 more calories per day), which may not seem like a lot, but it adds up over time. Other studies estimate that excess weight gain can be gained by only an addition of 150 calories a day. (Miller, 2007).
A study found that children who watch more than three hours of television a day are 50 per cent more likely to be obese than kids who watch fewer than two hours. These researchers conclude that "more than 60% of overweight incidents can be linked to excess TV viewing" (Tremblay, 2003).
Children with obese parents are more likely to have higher BMI’s, percentages of body fat, and overall screen time compared to children of normal-weight parents (Steffen, 2009).
Screen Time is directly related to lower cardiorespiratory endurance (Hardy, 2009).
Children who use a lot of media have a lower activity level which is linked to a higher rate of obesity (Vandewater, 2004).
A strong relationship was found between playing electronic video games and childhood obesity in school-aged Swiss children by researchers from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University Hospital Zurich (Stettler, 2004).
In another study of preschoolers (ages 1-4), a child's risk of being overweight increased by 6% for every hour of television watched per day. If that child had a TV in his or her bedroom, the odds of being overweight jumped an additional 31% for every hour watched. Preschool children with TVs in their bedroom watched an additional 4.8 hours of TV or videos every week (Dennison, et al., 2002).
Early childhood is a time of tremendous growth for children and the amount of physical activity positively affects the strength and amount of bone mass developed. A study of pre-schoolers found that girls who watched more television measured lower in the amount of hipbone density (Janz, 2001).
Another study on the relationship between metabolic rates and television viewing found that metabolic rates during television viewing were significantly lower than during resting periods for a group of obese and normal weight children, ages 8 to 12 years old (Klesges, 1993).
A study from Stanford University, researching the relationship between television viewing and weight, set out to measure body weight differences between two sets of third and fourth graders. One group was taught how to lessen their time watching television and playing video games. The second group received no such instruction and their TV and video game playing time went on as usual. For the first group, the instruction sought to establish a seven-hour a week limit on television and video game time. This would free up 14 hours to do something else. The results showed that the children who watched less television and played fewer video games had a significant reduction in measures of obesity, such as body mass index. The children who watched their usual amount of television had higher indicators of obesity. The only difference between the two groups was the amount of television and video game playing (Robinson, 1999).
As obesity becomes more of a health problem for our children it is increasingly important to encourage children to become more active. Limiting screen time and removing televisions from bedrooms can be important first steps to encouraging children into a more physically active lifestyle.
In general, there is little benefit from watching excessive TV, videos or spending time on computers. The disadvantages far outweigh the positives.
Mary Rockey, Ph.D., BCBA is the Director of Pupil Service at Randolph Central School.