Bedroom televisions may contribute to obesity in kids

Harold Mandel's picture
A kid watching TV in bed
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The growing awareness of the obesity problem in kids has prompted parents, physicians and schools to pay more attention to what kids are fed. Along with encouraging eating more low fat, low sugar and low calorie foods there have also been more aggressive efforts than ever to encourage our kids to be more active. Being too sedentary clearly increases the chances kids will suffer from obesity.

Television viewing has been recognized as an established risk factor for obesity in youth, reported JAMA Pediatrics on March 3, 2014. Researchers decided to assess the prospective association which exists between the presence of a television in the bedroom and change in body mass index, independent of television viewing, in a nationally representative sample of US children and adolescents. The researchers conducted a prospective telephone survey that captured children and adolescents from across the United States. The participants included 6522 boys and girls who were aged 10 to 14 years at baseline who were surveyed by telephone about media risk factors for obesity.

Bedroom televisions were reported to be present by 59.1 percent of the participants at baseline, with boys, ethnic minorities, and those of lower socioeconomic status having significantly higher rates of bedroom televisions .An analyses showed having a bedroom television was associated with an excess BMI of 0.57 and 0.75 at years 2 and 4, respectively, and a BMI gain of 0.24 from years 2 to 4. The researchers concluded that having a bedroom television is associated with weight gain which is beyond the effect of television viewing time. It has been postulated that this association could be due to uncaptured effects of television viewing or of disrupted sleep patterns.

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This study has suggested removing TV from a child’s bedroom may help prevent excessive weight gain, reports the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center on March 3, 2014. Researchers have found that having a bedroom television was a significant predictor of adolescent weight gain. Study first author Diane Gilbert-Diamond, who is an assistant professor of Community and Family Medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and a member of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center, has said, "This study suggests that removing bedroom TVs is an important step in our nation's fight against child obesity."

Gilbert-Diamond has also said that it has been discovered that adolescents with a TV in their bedroom gained approximately 1 extra pound a year, in comparison to those without one, even after accounting for hours of TV watched each day and socioeconomic factors. Bedroom televisions are very common in the U.S., with over half of adolescents having one. In fact this risk factor for obesity accounts for over 15 million pounds of excess weight gain per year among U.S. adolescents.

Layla Esposito, Ph.D., a program director in the Child Development and Behavior Branch of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which co-funded the study, said, "We know that childhood obesity can result from a number of contributing factors. "Research that identifies simple and concrete actions that parents can take to help reduce the risk of excessive weight gain in their children, such as removing the television from the bedroom, is significant." Gilbert-Diamond has pointed out that unlike other parenting strategies which often require persistent effort and vigilance, parents can actually make a significant difference by simply keeping televisions out of the bedrooms of their kids.

James Sargent, a pediatrician and collaborator on the study, has suggested getting rid of the TV while kids are still in elementary school. Sargent says you will experience a couple of weeks of complaining and misery, and then everyone will forget that the television was there in the first place. Gilbert Diamond has pointed out the next steps will be to investigate how bedroom use of other media, including computers, smartphones, tablets, and other devices, impact weight gain, and whether disrupted sleep patterns are a factor in the media-weight gain association.

It has been my impression that kids appear to be lazier when they have the convenience of a television in their bedroom. They appear to spend less time socializing with the family in the living room area and more time distancing themselves from an active lifestyle. Also, sneaking off hours time with the bedroom TV may be impairing normal sleep patterns. This association also appears to exist with all other media devices. The association between sedentary lifestyles and obesity is compelling and it therefore appears to be a good idea to get the TV's out of the kids bedrooms. I project that future studies will lead to the same conclusions and advice in dealing with other media devices.

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