TV watching children at obesity risk but not heart disease

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Childre, Obesity and TV

Researchers have discovered that although watching television may be making children fatter, it is not a major factor raising their risk of developing heart disease. It is physical activity, how much children move around generally, which has the greater impact on their later health. The study led by researchers at the Medical Research Council's Epidemiology Unit in Cambridge covered about 2,000 children from different areas in Europe. Scientists led by Dr Ulf Ekelund found that once physical activity and a multitude of socio-economic factors had been taken into account, the link between television viewing and metabolic risk factors was no longer significant. Their findings are published in PLOS Medicine.

Rather the study found that it was the children's physical activity levels, measured over four days with the help of a specially designed movement measuring device, that were related to a number of other risk factors such as blood pressure, sugar, insulin and fat levels in the blood which are all indicators of increased likelihood of diabetes and heart disease later in life.

TV viewing had previously been linked to obesity. However this study, which forms part of the European Youth Heart Study, is the first to use such a large sample population and hence is the first to be able to test against a number of other possible influences on children's weight and heart disease risk factors.

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Dr Ulf Ekelund said:

"We have now shown that physical activity in childhood is linked with risk factors which may increase the risk of developing heart disease later in life. While spending excessive time watching television is not beneficial, it is really the amount of time children spend playing outdoors and engaging in athletic activity which will have the strongest impact on their health. This is the best insurance policy available against heart disease."

TV viewing and physical activity are independently associated with metabolic risk in children: the European Youth Heart Study, U. Ekelund et al. is published in PLOS Medicine.

2. Dr Ulf Ekelund is based at the MRC Epidemiology Unit in Cambridge.

3. The Medical Research Council is dedicated to improving human health through excellent science. It invests on behalf of the UK taxpayer. Its work ranges from molecular level science to public health research, carried out in universities, hospitals and a network of its own units and institutes. The MRC liaises with the Health Departments, the National Health Service and industry to take account of the public's needs. The results have led to some of the most significant discoveries in medical science and benefited the health and wealth of millions of people in the UK and around the world.

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