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TV in the bedroom: Can it harm kids' health?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Children who watch TV in the bedroom are more likely to be obese

A new investigation from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, LA finds children who view television in the bedroom are more likely to have a high waist circumference, visceral fat and higher risks for metabolic disorders than their counterparts who don’t have access to television in the bedroom.

Preventing childhood obesity has been a focus of research and public health officials. Results of studies show just 2 hours of TV viewing time can significantly increase the odds of childhood obesity.

Lead investigator Peter T. Katzmarzyk, PhD explained in a media release, that TV viewing in the bedroom is linked specifically to the area of the body where fat deposits are found – in the waist and deep in the belly surrounding the organs and under the skin.

When the researchers compared children who don’t have a TV in the bedroom to those that do, they found kids who watch television in their rooms were more likely to have larger waists, more fat mass and dangerous subcutaneous and visceral fat than their peers.

The study authors note that 70 percent of children age 8 to 18 have a TV in the bedroom. One-third of youth are considered obese. On average, television viewing accounts for 4.5 hours of daily activity among youth. Children in the study with televisions in the bedroom were more likely to watch TV longer.

For the study, researchers looked at data from adolescents aged 5-18 in Baton Rouge who were evaluated for body mass index (BMI), HDL or good cholesterol and triglyceride levels, blood pressure, stomach fat, overall fat mass and glucose levels.

Participants were sent questionnaires that included how much television they watched - 0 –2 hours, 3–4 hours, or greater than 5 hours a day and specifically if they had a television in the bedroom. They were also asked about their food consumption - whether they ate fruits and vegetables, how often they ate sweets like candy and donuts or consumed soft drinks or dairy.

The highest level of fat mass was found among youth who watched more than 2.5 hours of television each day. More than 2 hours of TV time each raised the odds of having a high level of fat mass 2.5 times.

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Study co-author Amanda Staiano, PhD explained in a press release, “A bedroom TV may create additional disruptions to healthy habits, above and beyond regular TV viewing. 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. Both short sleep duration and lack of regular family meals have been related to weight gain and obesity."

The finding is important for parents who want to help their kids stay fit and grow into healthy adults.

Visceral fat linked to watching too much television is especially dangerous. Fat cells – and especially those in the abdominal area – produce hormones and other inflammatory substances that can lead to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and a variety of other diseases including cancer.

The study shows children who have television in the bedroom are more likely to have increased waist size, more body fat and the dangerous type of fat that surrounds the organs and can lead to poor health in adulthood, even if their overall television viewing time is the same as other children.

The authors write: "The influence of TV on the health of children and adolescents is of substantial importance to public health." One of the strengths of the study is that the researchers adjusted for variables that included demographics, physical activity and diet.

Researchers know too much TV time is a contributor to childhood obesity that sets the stage for future heart disease, diabetes and other metabolic disorders. The new study specifically links watching television in the bedroom to higher risk of childhood and adolescent obesity and poor health.

American Journal of Preventive Medicine
"Television, Adiposity, and Cardiometabolic Risk in Children and Adolescents"
Amanda E. Staiano, PhD, et al.
January 2013, Vol. 44, No. 1

Image credit: Morguefile

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