Amid revelations that inactivity can be as dangerous as smoking, a Canadian study has shown that a direct link can be made between the number of hours toddlers spend watching television and whether or not they are likely to be overweight by the age of ten. Not only will the hours of sedentary activity cause children to be heavier, but it will also decrease their athletic abilities.
The study was published in a BioMed journal after researchers analysed the television-watching patterns of over 1,000 children between the ages of two and four and compared them to their health at a later age. It showed that children who spent 18 hours a week watching television were on average bigger than those who spent approximately four hours less in front of the screen.
By also measuring the distance at which the children could jump from standing, researchers established that for every extra hour per week spent watching television, the children’s jump was reduced by approximately 0.36cm.
One of the authors of the study said that this discovery was important as it showed the factors which can lead to childhood obesity, such as watching more than the recommended amount of television each day (under two hours, according to the American Academy of Paediatrics).
Dr Lynda Pagani said: "Across the occidental world, there have been dramatic increases in unhealthy weight for both children and adults in recent decades. Our standard of living has also changed in favour of more easily prepared, calorie-dense foods and sedentary practices. Watching more television not only displaces other forms of educational and active leisurely pursuits but also places them at risk of learning inaccurate information about proper eating."
Although the findings may not come as a surprise to many people, they are important because they attach scientific value to what many specialists have been claiming for years: that part of the reason for the worrying levels of obesity in children is the fact that too many hours of their day are spent sitting in front of a screen.
But what of children who spend the same amounts of time reading books? Surely their levels of inactivity are equal, they are just spending the sedentary hours engaging in a more socially approved activity. However, the headlines would not scream that ‘books make our kids obese’.
The reality remains that children of overweight parents are likely to be overweight themselves, not because of their genes, but because of the lifestyle. A family that spends most of its time sitting down indoors will inevitably be unhealthier than a family that engages in sports and exercise. If a person of any age consumes more calories than he or she is burning through physical activity, this will lead to being overweight – regardless of what it is that they are doing during the time they are sitting down.