Children Watching TV Linked to Poor Health Later in Life

A study just released has linked excessive television watching by children to poor health later in life. The study was reported by both Reuters Health on July 16, 2004, and by the London Associated Press on July 15, 2004. The study was performed at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand.

The study showed that children who watch more than two hours of television a night during childhood and adolescence seem to be at higher risk of high cholesterol levels, smoking, poor fitness, and being overweight in adulthood. The original study was published in the July 17, 2004 issue of The Lancet.

The study involved 1000 unselected subjects who were born in Dunedin New Zealand in the early 1970s and followed at regular intervals until 26 years of age. The results showed that even an average weeknight viewing of one to two hours between the ages of 5 and 15 was associated with higher body-mass indices, lower cardio-respiratory fitness, increased smoking and raised cholesterol.

Lead author Dr. Robert J. Hancox, from the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, noted, “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 Pediatrics that parents should limit children’s viewing to 1 to 2 hours per day; in fact, the data suggests that less than 1 hour a day would be even better.”

Drs. David S. Ludwig director of the obesity program at Children’s Hospital in Boston, and Steven Gortmaker, a sociology lecturer at the Harvard School of Public Health, note that “a likely explanation for these findings is that dietary and other lifestyle habits learned in childhood and influenced by television continue into adulthood. Ultimately, parents must reclaim from television the responsibility for educating and entertaining their young children.”