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When a child watches television, he burns fewer calories than he would reading a book. The balance of calorie intake and usage determines whether someone gains or loses weight. Since watching television uses so few calories, it is much easier for a child to gain weight if he watches a lot of TV instead of playing outside or riding a bike.
Although watching TV and playing video games may not cause kids to become overweight, several studies have found a strong link between screen time and weight gain. One study found that among 12- to 17-year-olds, the prevalence of obesity increased by 2 percent for each additional hour of television kids viewed. Other studies discovered that youth who watch more than five hours of TV a day are much more likely to be overweight than kids who watch one hour or less.
In addition to deterring kids from being physically active, watching TV and playing computer games promotes overeating. For starters, many kids like to eat in front of a screen. However, it takes about 20 minutes for the brain to signal the stomach that it is full, which means kids can easily polish off a big bag of potato chips as they watch their favorite cartoon without being aware of what they’re doing. In addition, kids are bombarded with commercials that encourage them to eat high-calorie foods loaded with added sugar and fat. The average child sees about 40,000 TV ads each year, and most of the ads targeted to kids are for candy, cereal, soft drinks, snack chips, and fast food. In fact, one study found that if kids (or adults) ate a 2,000 calorie diet consisting entirely of foods advertised on TV, they would consume 25 times the recommended daily servings of sugars and 20 times the recommended servings of fat. However, the advertised foods would provide fewer than half the recommended servings of vegetables, dairy products, and fruit.