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Does TV contribute to childhood obesity?

Judy Caplan
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

TV does contribute to childhood obesity. Kids can watch up to 5 hours of TV a day and that does not include other screen time like video games, computer, and cell phone use. If they are watching TV they are sitting and not moving. Additionally kids are exposed to thousands of commercials each year most of which promote junk food and behaviors which can lead to obesity. Turn off the TV and turn on life!

Mrs. Marjorie Nolan Cohn
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

TV viewing time has a strong link to childhood obesity rates. Children are spending more and more time in front of the TV (or computer, video games etc). The lack of physical activity and often, increased snacking time (and amount) causes a positive energy balance. Once a child is overweight or obese, energy levels drop making it even harder for the child to be physically active and lose weight.

TV contributes to childhood obesity by decreasing physical activity. The American Academy of Family Physicians states that children who watch more than one hour of TV a day are at increased risk of becoming obese.
Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

It's not just TV watching that contributes to childhood obesity but also too much total "screen time" that encourages sedentary behaviors.

Research shows that 8- to 18-year-olds devote an average of 7½ hours daily to entertainment media, including television, computer time, video games, and movies. Because they spend so much of that time “media multitasking” (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media content into those 7½ hours. 

A combination of eating too many calories and partaking in too little physical activity contributes to childhood obesity. Screen time should be limited to no more than 2 hours daily.

Kristi King
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

There are studies that show that increased screen time can be associated with weight gain in children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of 2 receive no screen time, and children over the age of 2 be limited to 1-2 hours per day. Limiting screen time will encourage the children to find other physical activities to help keep them busy.

The number of hours of daily TV watching has been linked to weight gain in children. And the effects of childhood television watching may carry into the adult years. Studies have found that adults who watched the most television as children weighed more and were less fit than those adults who watched less television as children.

Children burn fewer calories sitting in front of a screen than they do playing outside. And children who have a television in their bedroom are more likely to develop weight issues, probably because watching the television is so convenient.

For people of all ages, body weight results from the relationship between "calories in" from food and beverages and "calories out" from metabolism, growth, and physical activity. Two factors contribute to "calories out" -- regular physical activity, which burns calories, and screen time, or time spent in front of the TV, which reduces time spent burning calories.

To help avoid weight problems in children, limit your child's screen time, encourage physical activities, and focus on healthy eating for everyone in the family.

Armin Brott
Pediatrician

Watching TV and playing computer games is perfectly fine—but when it consumes too much of your kids' free time, to the exclusion of physical activity, you've got a recipe for serious weight gain. Set reasonable limits in your home and insist that screen time be matched with outdoors or sports time.

I think it does for two reasons.

  1. A child burns less calories when resting and because they are less active they have more time to think of food.  The calorie balance is changed and have a greater liklihood to intake more calories than burnt.
  2. It sets a pattern for their life.  As a child if they are not active and not corrected then they think that this permittable.  If they believe it is permittable then they will have a greater liklihood to maintain these inactive habits througout their life and increase their risk for obesity.

If a child moves more they will burn more calories and not think of food as often.  The best thing is they have set themselves up for proper habits for the rest of the life.  Ultimately it comes down to what parents set as an example for their children and what they allow them to get away with.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.