Covered by CBS News earlier today, a new study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity stated that excessive television watching during early childhood will result in weight gain and lack of muscle development when the child approaches puberty later in life. Conducted at the Québec Longitudinal Study of Child Development by Dr. Caroline Fitzpatrick and Dr. Linda Pagani, the researchers studied the television habits of children between the ages of 2.5 to 4.5. Extending over several years, researchers started with a larger group of 5-month-old infants and deemed that over 2,100 were eligible for check-ups to record data at 17 months, 29 months, 41 months and 53 months. In addition, data about muscular growth and waist circumference was collected when the child reached the second grade as well as the fourth grade in elementary school.
Of the original 2,100, approximately 60 percent of those children were able to participate in the entire study from start to finish. When the child was at 29 months as well as 53 months, the parents were asked “How much time per day does your child spend watching TV?”
While the average was about nine hours per week, children around the age of 4.5 were already watching nearly 15 hours per week or a bit more than two hours of television per day. Even worse, approximately 15 percent of the kids were watching 18 hours of television per week or about 2.5 hours per day.
As the study progressed, the researchers were able to show evidence that a child’s waistline grew by about half a millimeter for each hour that a child watched television beyond the average of the group. In addition, each hour of television watched beyond the average resulted in a decrease of .285 centimeters during a standard long jump test. This means that a child that watches 18 hours of television per week will lose a couple inches on the long jump by the time they reach age 10 in addition to having extra millimeters on the waistline due to a sedentary lifestyle in front of the TV.
In regards to the reason behind the creation of the study, Dr. Linda Pagani stated “We already knew that there is an association between preschool television exposure and the body fat of fourth grade children, but this is the first study to describe more precisely what that relationship represents.”
While the waistline changes aren’t particularly explosive, habits formed at an early age are far more likely to continue as the child grows older according to the researchers. Dr. Caroline Fitzpatrick stated “Behavioral dispositions can become entrenched during childhood as it is a critical period for the development of habits and preferred activities. Accordingly, the ability to perform well during childhood may promote participation in sporting activities in adulthood.”
According to a recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics, children over the age of two shouldn’t watch any more than two hours of television per day. In addition, doctors recommend that children participate in at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day along with consuming a healthy balanced diet mostly free of junk food.